Order of the Health Officer of the County of Sonoma
Closing Parks to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
DATE OF ORDER: MARCH 23, 2020
Please read this Order carefully. Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. (California Health and Safety Code§ 120275, et seq.)
UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF CALIFORNIA HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE SECTIONS 101040, 101085, AND 120175, THE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE COUNTY OF SONOMA (“HEALTH OFFICER”) ORDERS:
- This Order is issued based on evidence of increasing occurrence of COVID-19 within the County and throughout the Bay Area, scientific evidence and best practices regarding the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically, and evidence that the age, condition, and health of a significant portion of the population of the County places it at risk for serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19. Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the general public, which is now a pandemic according to the World Health Organization, there is a public health emergency throughout the County. Making the problem worse, some individuals who contract the COVID-19 virus have no symptoms or have mild symptoms, which means they may not be aware they carry the virus. Because even people without symptoms can transmit the disease, and because evidence shows the disease is easily spread, social distancing consisting of a six-foot separation between people is currently required for all activity that is permitted by the Shelter in Place Order No. C19-03 and the Governor’s Executive Order, including outdoor activity.
- The scientific evidence shows that at this stage of the emergency, it is essential to slow virus transmission as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed. One proven way to slow the transmission is to limit interactions among people to the greatest extent practicable. By reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, this Order helps preserve critical and limited healthcare capacity in the County.
- This Order also is issued in light of the existence of 27 cases of COVID-19 in the County as well as one fatality, as of March 23, 2020, including a significant and increasing number of suspected cases of community transmission and likely further significant increases in transmission. This Order is necessary to slow the rate of spread and the Health Officer will re-evaluate it as further data becomes available.
- This Order is issued in accordance with, and incorporates by reference, the March 19, 2020 Executive Order of the Governor (No. N-33-20); the March 17, 2020, Order of the Health Officer No. C19-03; the March 13, 2020 Order of the Health Officer No. C19-02; the March 4, 2020 Proclamation of a State of Emergency issued by Governor Gavin Newsom; the March 2, 2020 Proclamation of Local Emergency for the County of Sonoma issued by the Director of Emergency Services Declaring the Existence of a Local Emergency in the County Regarding Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19); the Declaration of Local Health Emergency Regarding Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) issued by the Health Officer; the March 4, 2020 Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Sonoma Ratifying and Extending the Declaration of a Local Health Emergency, and the March 4, 2020 Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Sonoma Ratifying and Extending the Proclamation of a LocalThis Order comes after evidence that the high volume of usage by the public of parks, beaches, and open space makes it impossible for persons to maintain the required social distancing, especially in those areas where recreational biking is allowed. This Order also comes after the announcement that parks in neighboring counties will be closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic creating a likelihood that persons living in those counties will travel to Sonoma County for outdoor activity and recreation.
- This Order comes after the release of substantial guidance from the County Health Officer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Department of Public Health, and other public health officials throughout the United States and around the world, including a variety of prior orders to combat the spread and harms of COVID-19. The Health Officer will continue to assess the quickly evolving situation and may modify or extend this Order, or issue additional Orders, related to COVID-19.
- This Order comes after evidence that the high volume of usage by the public of parks, beaches, and open space makes it impossible for persons to maintain the required social distancing, especially in those areas where recreational biking is allowed. This Order also comes after the announcement that parks in neighboring counties will be closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic creating a likelihood that persons living in those counties will travel to Sonoma County for outdoor activity and recreation.
- Effective at 12:00 a.m. on March 24, 2020, and remaining in effect until this order is rescinded, amended, or superseded in writing by the Health Officer, all parks located within Sonoma County shall be closed to the public.
- “Park” means an area of land, beach or water open to the public for recreation, including walking, hiking, biking, relaxing, boating, and playing, regardless of ownership.
- Paved multi-use pathways outside of park boundaries remain open except to bicycles and horses.
It is so ordered:
Signed by Dr. Sundari R. Mase MD MPH, Health Officer of Sonoma County
Frequently Asked Questions – Parks Closures and Outdoor Activities Protocol during Shelter in Place Order
On March 23, Sonoma County Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase issued a health order closing all parks within Sonoma County beginning March 24 and remaining in effect until further notice. The closure applies to all agencies and jurisdictions operating parks and open spaces in Sonoma County. It comes after parks, trails and beaches countywide were crowded with visitors during the first weekend of the shelter-in-place orders issued by the county and state.
At this time, the parks are closed to all visitors – whether you drive or walk or cycle to the parks. For the shelter-in-place order to work, we need to practice social distancing. Staying close to home is the best way to protect ourselves and our community.
If you live near a park, we ask you to follow the closure order and not walk in. We’re also asking people not to drive to surrounding neighborhoods and walk in. These next few weeks are critical if we are going to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.
The closure order is intended to keep us home so we can slow the spread of the virus. Due to park design, many parks can still get crowded if walk-in access is allowed. Walk-in access also presents an issue of equity for people who don’t live near parks. We know this is a disappointing development, but we’re really asking for your cooperation.
We had hoped the parks could remain a resource for basic activities, but the greater health of our community makes closing them the right choice at this time.
We hope you’ll comply with the closure order. If rangers find you in a park, they’ll let you know the parks are closed and ask you to leave. The intent is first to educate and ask for your cooperation. If you refuse to comply, you could be cited.
Under the parks closure order, Class 1 bike trails like the Joe Rodota and West County trails (paved bike paths separated from roads) are open to pedestrians only. These trails serve as essential pathways in some neighborhoods, functioning like sidewalks. They remain open to let residents move about within their neighborhoods. They’re closed to cyclists to help prevent crowding and through-traffic and to reinforce the intent of the stay-at-home order.
The health order does allow for limited outdoor exercise if we stay 6 feet from people who are not members of our household. Health authorities encourage us to do things like walk or ride bike around our neighborhoods. Play games or exercise in our yards. Garden or do outside chores or walk the dog. We know it’s disappointing to not be able to use the parks but staying close to home right now is the best way to slow the spread of this virus.
School yards are considered public parks when school is not in session, so this closure order applies to those spaces as well.
Like everyone, we are doing our best to adapt while this emergency evolves. When the initial stay-at-home order was issued, we hoped the parks could be a community resource. However, we also suspended non-essential services. We waived fees so staff wouldn’t have to process sales and to help make the parks more accessible.
Like park managers throughout the country, we didn’t anticipate the record number of visitors we’d receive. We believe parks crowding would continue to be an issue even if we reinstituted parking fees.
Unfortunately, too many people using the parks violates the intent of the stay-at-home order and makes social distancing challenging if not impossible. It also strains our ability to keep facilities safe and clean.
We understand your concern about your membership. We will address this in the future. Right now, we’re focusing our limited resources on getting information out about the parks closure and ensuring the safety of staff who are enforcing the closure.