Last Saturday, I was in Pen Park for the drive-through version of City Market—a creative adaptation to our social-distancing circumstances that, while not as good as the real thing, at least comes reasonably close. On my right, as I drove in, was Meadowcreek Golf Course, acres of open, rolling green hills marked at the edges with “no trespassing” signs noting the course was closed.
I have zero interest in golf, but the vast emptiness of the public course—where it would be far easier to social distance than in any local grocery store—seemed to drive home the absurdity of the
city’s decision to keep most of its outdoor recreation facilities closed in the name of safety. Last week, the Parks & Recreation department announced that all spray parks and pools—the places where many children survive a Virginia summer—would be closed for the season, and Albemarle County declared its swimming lakes would also be off limits.
According to the CDC, there’s no evidence the virus is transmitted through pools or water play areas, and there is some evidence to suggest that access to public pools prevents drownings elsewhere. The city’s decision seems less a careful weighing of risk and safety than a sign of a lack of imagination.
Under Governor Northam’s reopening plan, outdoor pools are allowed to open for lap swimming, and private clubs like Fry’s Spring and ACAC have already done so. It would be more difficult, but still possible, to limit crowds at the outdoor spray parks. It would take some thoughtfulness, creativity, and effort. But for kids who have been cooped up inside for months, glued to screens, unable to access playgrounds, basketball courts, or ball fields, it seems worth it.
The pandemic is far from over, and as businesses begin to (cautiously) reopen, it’s important to remember that the risks haven’t gone away, that we can’t go back to normal yet. But it’s also important to recognize that this virus will be with us for a long time, and we need to adapt—to find ways, like those drive-through markets— to meet community needs while staying safe.