de Blasio wants park-goers to take responsibility for own health

Mayor is not ready to shut down parks, playgrounds just yet


Mayor Bill de Blasio admits the New York City Gov. Andrew Cuomo saw on Saturday is a bit different from the one he sees when he gets out and about. But all the same, the mayor says he's following Cuomo's directive and putting together a more specific plan that will discourage people in the city from congregating while the coronavirus crisis continues.

"On the question of parks, I spoke earlier with Gov. Cuomo, and we are fully aligned," de Blasio said during his Sunday briefing. "We understand that we have a big and different and new challenge on our hands."

A few hours earlier in Albany, Cuomo complained about what he described as "disrespectful" conduct by some when he toured the city on Saturday who were acting as if there is no crisis taking place. He saw people who were playing team sports, gathered in large groups, and simply were ignoring Cuomo's directive from days earlier that people keep at leas six feet of distance from each other, and only do activities solitarily. 

"I don't know what they are not understanding," Cuomo said. "This is not life as usual. This is just a mistake. It's a mistake. It's insensitive. It's arrogant. It's self-destructive. It's disrespectful to other people. This has to stop, and it has to stop now."

Cuomo then ordered de Blasio and city council Speaker Corey Johnson to develop and submit to Albany a plan to bring such close contact in New York City under control. He suggested making better use of the larger parks, including Van Cortlandt Park here in the Bronx, and maybe even shutting down underutilized streets temporarily to create neighborhood pockets where people can stretch their legs outside and get some exercise.

Shutting down the streets is not something on de Blasio's immediate plan of action, the mayor said, but they are putting together a policy that will depend on those using parks and playgrounds to self-police.

"It's absolutely normal and human to get outside and get a little bit of exercise," de Blasio said. "The pause is all about social distancing, and it is all bout protecting ourselves and our family. We are not saying you can linger and make a day of it. Get a minimum of exercise, get what you need, and get back indoors. Go get what you need, and get back inside."

For those who aren't able to manage this, police and city parks department officials will be on-hand to enforce, and even disperse crowds. If it seems there are too many kids in playground, for instance, it might be best to wait, the mayor added.

And even if someone from the outside might seem some contact among people, especially in a playground, they need to take into consideration that families are staying together indoors, and thus don't need to be separated from each other.

"If a mom goes to the playground with her child, she's already in constant contact with her child," de Blasio said. "But if that child comes into contact with another child from a different family, or that mom came into contact with another mom from a different family," then that's there where there will be issues.

"We're going to say to parents, 'Here is the reality. If you're going to go on a playground, you have to take full responsibility for the situation,'" the mayor said. "If there are already some people on the playground, and you can't keep six feet away from people, don't go on the playground."

Closing down streets right now isn't a good idea, the mayor added, because this would only add areas police would have to enforce to keep groups dispersed. 

"We know (where to focus) right now because of our parks and playgrounds, because the NYPD patrol those areas, and parks enforcement patrols those areas," de Blasio said. "It cannot be we're going to close some streets and leave it be. If we do that, what will happen is that a whole lot of people will congregate."

New York Police Department officers have been focusing on areas of congregation over the weekend to ensure that proper social distancing is taking place, Chief Dermot Shea said. On Saturday alone, officers in all precincts visited 1,657 supermarkets and pharmacies, issuing just three verbal warnings for crowd conditions. 

Officers also visited 5,559 bars, restaurants and clubs, discovering that a vast majority of them were closed.

Police on Saturday only issued one summons in the Bronx for failure to comply, and arrested two people in Queens for an unlicensed bottle club.

Still, Shea said, there are some real world considerations the force has to take into account, primarily officers getting sick or becoming exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

As of Sunday afternoon, the NYPD has had 98 employees test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with 70 of them being officers in uniform. Still, of those numbers, only three have required hospitalization, with one expected to be discharged on Sunday. 

"We are not at the point where we are close to going to 12-hour tours," Shea said. "What we are doing is planning for an eventuality and moving people from units that are less important right now to be ready. And we are in a good place still, (although) the planning is literally ongoing hour-by-hour."

Sick rate among the force is double normal capacity, which really started to become noticeable beginning March 17, Shea said. 

But even as officers and civilian workers have had to stay home to recover or to quarantine, some already are starting to come back.

"We had people come back to work that had been put on quarantine, and I am really looking forward to the people who are out sick with this virus and come back to work for the obvious reasons," Shea said. "We are in good shape. "

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