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As Las Vegas-area parks get busier, social distancing gets harder

Updated March 30, 2020 - 8:53 am

Las Vegas Valley parks and trails are becoming more crowded as residents seek a cure for cabin fever, increasing the difficulty of getting some exercise and fresh air while maintaining proper social distancing.

Many parkgoers and hikers maintain the recommended 6 feet of separation from others during their ventures outdoors, but not everyone is following the recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Las Vegas resident Dan Anderson, who has been alternating his dog walks between Desert Breeze Park and Rainbow Family Park for 10 years, estimates that he’s seeing twice as many people in both since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state early this month.

Most maintain the social distance from one another, Anderson said, but he’s also seen people using outdoor workout stations at Family Park without taking any apparent precautions, which could contribute to the spread of the virus.

And as he was talking to a reporter on Thursday, he pointed out a group of about a dozen people congregating under a under a pavilion at Desert Breeze Park.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen that,” he said. “I would say if you’re not careful (the pandemic) could be longer than it needs to be.”

Kids who have been cooped up at home pose another challenge when they get out into the wide-open spaces.

‘Kids are going to be kids’

Christy Miller, who brought her two sons to the skate park at Sunrise Springs Park in Centennial Hills instead of Desert Breeze Park in Spring Valley to avoid crowds on Thursday, acknowledged that keeping them from getting close to other kids is virtually impossible, especially in the skate park.

But she said she feels it’s important to give them a sense of normalcy and an outlet to exercise, so she tells them to make sure they don’t touch anything and hopes for the best.

“Kids are going to be kids,” she said.

Brian Labus, an assistant professor of immunology and biostatistics at UNLV, said visits to parks are not necessarily hazardous to your health if you observe the guidelines, but they can be if you don’t.

“Anytime you are around people you don’t live with there’s a potential risk,” he said.

As for touching outdoor surfaces such as playground equipment, outdoor conditions may make it more difficult for the coronavirus to survive for long, according to Labus.

“What it comes down to is avoiding other people,” he said.

Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas all closed park playgrounds this week out of concern that the surfaces of equipment could spread the disease. The city of Las Vegas is keeping its parks, including playgrounds, open and has stepped up cleaning, but it, too, is discouraging the use of playground equipment.

Most abiding by guidelines

Las Vegas officials initially said crews would disinfect high-touch areas twice a day but issued an update on Thursday saying that it would scale that back in order to conserve required protective equipment and disinfectant for first responders and “other more vital needs.”

Instead the city will clean the parks twice a week, a process that includes power-washing of playgrounds, equipment and high-touch areas, in addition to picking up trash and mowing, David Riggleman, a spokesman for the city manager’s office, said via an email.

City officials have not seen many people violating social distancing, he said. If a marshal sees people gathering in groups larger than 10 – they will be instructed to practice social distancing. Signs also have been posted to discourage people from touching or handling equipment and urging them to practice social distancing.

“At this point, we believe if people practice those two things, walking on a trail or running in a park shouldn’t add to the spread of the virus,” he said. “Done correctly within (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, we believe park access will provide mental and physical health benefits at a time when people especially need them.”

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter.

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