Arden Park, Edina, coronavirus

A sign at Arden Park informs park users of precautions they should take to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19. Later, fencing would be erected to further discourage people from using the playground equipment. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

After receiving reports of groups gathering at parks and playgrounds in Edina, the city is reminding residents to observe social distancing guidance in attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Councilmember Kevin Staunton raised the issue at the March 17 Edina City Council meeting. “I got at least two communications today from folks who were concerned about the playground and the parks being full of people in close contact with one another,” Staunton said, raising the concern in light of “how important it is for us in the community to try our best to keep our distance from each other for a while.”

Edina Parks & Recreation Director Perry Vetter told the Sun Current his department had received “a handful of calls” about people disregarding social distancing guidelines at parks.

“We are asking people to avoid group activities and group play, avoid our playground structures and continue to practice social distancing and all the other preventative measures that they can do,” Vetter said.

While playgrounds are off-limits, and health officials are telling the public to drastically limit social contact, parks remain an important resource for public well-being – now, perhaps, more than ever.

“The catch-22 in this all is we want people to use our parks,” Vetter said. “They have a tremendous physical and mental health benefit to people during this time.”

Residents are still encouraged to use the parks. Use them for running, walking, playing responsibly or even meditating, Vetter said, well aware of people's need to let off some steam, especially considering the lack of available activities.

“I understand people aren't in school, but there are ways to enjoy our parks by being safe,” Vetter said. “We just don't want people congregating in groups on our play structures, et cetera.”

Considering the rapid lifestyle shift for Edina, the nation and much of the world, he noted the precautionary messaging is a work in progress. Mayor Jim Hovland made it the subject of one of his daily updates on the COVID-19 crisis, and the city has taken to social media to get the word out.

“We'll try to continually adapt our message until we get enough people understanding that they need to take precautionary measures to help keep our community safe,” Vetter said. “… I think we're all coming to the acceptance of this at a different time and at a different place.”

Staunton outlined the stakes in blunt terms.

“It's really important,” he said. “And if we're going to avert disaster here, it's going to be because we're going to interrupt our usual routine a little bit so that we can protect everybody.”

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