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All parks closed in Sonoma County amid coronavirus outbreak

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How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

All parks in Sonoma County were closed to the public beginning first thing Tuesday morning until further notice, another extraordinary step to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has the entire region on edge.

The order includes all city, county, state and federal parks, as well as parks on school grounds and beaches. Paved, multiuse pathways outside park boundaries in Sonoma County will remain open, as will a few regional trails such as the Joe Rodota Trail and the West County Trail. Bicycles and horses will be prohibited on them.

The move by the county’s top public health official comes after crowds flocked to Sonoma and Marin county beaches over the weekend, leading to overflowing parking lots and packed stretches of sand. People at the beach flouting the countywide directive last week for people to mainly stay indoors and close to home didn’t sit well with county officials. Many at the beach didn’t comply with the recommended social distance of 6 feet from one another, a key tactic to lower the risk of catching or spreading the deadly virus.

“The crowding of visitors is contrary to the shelter-in-place order,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County’s parks system. “Right now is the time to really reinforce to our community how serious our situation is, and we need to ask for everybody’s cooperation to get through this crisis we’re in.”

Last week, an elderly man who recently returned home to Sonoma County from a cruise died from complications related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, marking the first known death in the county from the illness.

Gov. Gavin Newsom berated the weekend beachgoers in a Saturday press conference.

“Those young people are still out there on the beaches thinking it’s time to party. It’s time to grow up, time to wake up,” Newsom said. “Time to recognize that it’s not just about the old folks, it’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish.”

Although the California Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement Monday night that it was merely closing vehicle access to some state parks in Sonoma County, the county’s order applies to all agencies and jurisdictions operating parks and open spaces and supersedes what state parks agency’s website indicated, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque. Whitaker said via text message he thinks local state park staff were closing parking areas and making preparations to ensure compliance with the county’s order.

Following the crowded conditions this weekend, Marin County officials on Sunday issued an order for immediate closure of all Marin parks to stem the tide of visitors. That directive allows pedestrians to use paved county- maintained pathways, such as the Mill Valley-Sausalito Multiuse Pathway along Richardson Bay, as long as people follow guidelines on proper social distancing.

Sonoma County Interim Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said in her order closing the parks that neighboring counties closing their parks meant residents in those communities may travel to Sonoma County for outdoor activity and recreation, which would further increase traffic to local parks. In an interview Monday, she called the weekend activity “really concerning.”

“We decided if we want measures such as shelter in place to actually work, they have to actually be complied with,” Mase said. “Rather than leave it up to individuals to do the right thing, we decided this was important and had to be done at this time.”

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Whitaker said parks were not designed to maintain a safe distance from other visitors — and in fact, because of the topography and terrain of many parks, it is “impossible” to stay six feet apart from one another, he said.

Managers for lakes Sonoma and Mendocino, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, already had been evaluating how to handle sudden crowds at the region’s public open spaces when the request came to join with the countywide park closure, Area operations manager Chris Schooley said. The result was an immediate move to close Lake Sonoma, adjoining day-use areas, boat ramps, hiking trails and parking areas, though it might take a day or two to do so safely and efficiently, he said.

“It will take us time to get those areas physically closed off, but in the meantime, even if the public encounter an area at Lake Sonoma that is not physically barricaded, the county should assume that all areas of Lake Sonoma are closed and should stay away,” Schooley said.

No change in public access to Lake Mendocino was announced Monday.

Before the parks closure order was issued Monday, Santa Rosa resident Jacob Marquez enjoyed a picnic at Spring Lake Regional Park with his girlfriend and her mother.

While he said he loved to visit local parks, he also understood why the county would want to close them during this dire public health emergency.

“I think it’s smart for the time being … to ensure that people are safe,” Marquez said. “That’s a priority, so I understand.”

Park officials will regularly patrol restricted areas, and while Whitaker said they will approach those who violate the order with “kindness,” if the issue persists, they will consider enforcement actions, such as citations.

“It breaks our heart. We know how much the public loves these facilities,” Whitaker said of closing the parks. “(But) this overcrowding thing is not something we can tolerate right now.”

Staff Writers Lori A. Carter, Mary Callahan and Tyler Silvy contributed to this report.

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