Public Officials Chastise Residents Who Aren’t Taking Social Distancing Seriously

Crowds gathered around the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. this weekend, prompting some to call on the National Parks Service to close the Tidal Basin for the duration of cherry blossom season.

Crowds gathered around the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. this weekend, prompting some to call on the National Parks Service to close the Tidal Basin for the duration of cherry blossom season. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin


Connecting state and local government leaders

Over the weekend, people crowded parks, beaches, and other outside attractions. “I don’t know what I’m saying that people don’t get,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called the behavior “insensitive” and “arrogant.”

While many Americans spent the weekend hunkered down at home, binging Netflix and video-chatting with friends to maintain the new social distancing standards, others seemed less concerned with the escalating coronavirus pandemic. 

Beaches were packed, people played group games at New York City parks and swarms of people admired the cherry blossoms along the national mall in Washington, D.C. In response, governors and mayors warned they would crack down on people breaking “shelter-in-place” orders or other restrictions designed to keep people mostly inside and separated from others to stem the spread of Covid-19. Officials also began contemplating park and beach closures in order to restrict locations where people were congregating.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy warned on Sunday that there could be a law enforcement crackdown on people violating the state’s order to stay at home and not gather in any groups. “There’s too many people not paying attention to this,” said the governor. "We want all of these steps to be enforced aggressively.” 

On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expanded his state’s restrictions, while chastising residents for spending the weekend at Ocean City beaches and in local parks. “If you are engaged in this kind of activity, you are breaking the law and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens,” Hogan said.   

Hogan said he didn’t think breaking up large outdoor gatherings would involve arrests, but said people should expect that law enforcement will come around with bullhorns and order them to disperse. But reported that Murphy said arrests could happen if people don’t comply. 

“I don’t know what I’m saying that people don’t get,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued one of the first statewide orders for people to stay at home unless they had “essential” needs to take care of. At a Sunday press briefing, he called reports of pick-up basketball games and exercise classes in parks “insensitive” and “arrogant.” 

Non-essential businesses in New York are closed by government order, but like in other locations, residents are allowed to take walks and exercise outside as long as they maintain a distance of six feet from one another. Some, however, are interpreting the outdoor allowances more liberally than public officials intended. 

Cuomo seemed astonished that people were not taking social distancing orders seriously. "You would think there was nothing going on in some parts of New York City,” he said. “This is not life as usual … How many times can you say, ‘You’re being reckless and selfish.’”

In other countries, government lockdowns have been more formal—and more enforced. A popular video circulating on Twitter shows Italian mayors yelling at people for leaving their homes. Residents of France need a signed pass to move freely. Israel is now tracking the location data on the cellphones of infected people. No official military presence or checkpoints within cities have been widely established in this country but some anticipate they may come eventually. 

For now, New York has banned team sports and revoked permits for large gatherings in parks. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday sent a a plan to the governor to close playgrounds and athletic fields and facilities, while suggesting some streets be closed to car traffic to give people more space to be outside. On Sunday afternoon, de Blasio said that parks would remain open but would be patrolled by police officers who will monitor for social distancing. “We will be enforcing this, but with understanding,” he said. “We’ll enforce it through education. We’ll enforce through warnings. We’re not going to be draconian.”

Cases in New York state jumped from 4,627 on Saturday to over 20,000 cases by Monday. Officials say the daily spikes in case numbers are due to an increase in testing, in addition to the rapid spread of the disease.

In Washington, D.C., the pandemic has hit at the exact same time as one of the city’s major tourist events—peak bloom for cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. The trees drew large crowds this weekend despite pleas from local leaders for everyone to remain indoors and maintain social distancing.

The National Parks Service, which oversees federal monuments in D.C. including the Tidal Basin, on Saturday said that it is “becoming increasingly difficult to maintain effective social distancing” near the cherry blossoms. “We strongly urge anyone considering a visit to see the cherry blossoms to reconsider,” the agency wrote on Twitter. “Slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus is everyone’s responsibility. We will be implementing traffic control measures, including closing the already limited parking areas, to discourage excessive visitation.”

The D.C. Metro system also asked people to keep trains empty for hospital staff and first responders. “These trees have been around a long time and they’ll be there next year,” Metro said on Twitter. “Please don’t take Metro unless it’s essential. Seeing flowery trees is not essential.”

Metro had already closed one station near the National Mall to limit the flow of tourists to the area. On Sunday night, Mayor Muriel Bowser said that police would be limiting pedestrian access to monuments. Several local public officials have urged the NPS to completely close the Tidal Basin to visitors for the duration of the cherry blossom season. 

At least one state park department closed this weekend in response to the flood of visitors. Another closed all campgrounds but left parks open.

In California, where residents are under a statewide “shelter-in-place” order that technically still allows them to take walks outside, many residents of Los Angeles convened on hiking trails and at beaches.

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Sunday night that the city would begin cracking down on gatherings at beaches. “This weekend we saw too many people packing beaches, trails and parks,” he wrote on Twitter. “So we are closing sports and recreation at LA City Parks and closing parking at city beaches. That doesn’t mean gather elsewhere. This is serious. Stay home and save lives.”

The nearby city of Malibu has already closed its beaches to the public, and in Florida, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez closed all boat ramps and marinas to stem the flow of people to the water. “I am disappointed to see photos and videos on social media of … large groups of people congregating,” Gimenez said on Sunday. “We are in a state of emergency … Those of you not following these guidelines are putting others at risk, perhaps your own family and friends. And, you could be contributing to a much longer scenario and further shutdowns in our community.”

OTHER STORIES from Route Fifty:

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: This Is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus