A closed park in Madrid, Spain.
A shut-down public park in Madrid, Spain. Courtesy Eric Suni

Yesterday, I looked into what social distancing means for Seattle's 485 public parks.

The short answer, for now: use them for solo adventures and activities in which humans are well-spaced out from each other, but "do not congregate."

Seeing this, Eric, a Slog reader in locked-down Spain, wrote:

I just read your article about social distancing and parks. I think it raises an important issue.

For context, I live in Madrid and am currently under lockdown rules (can only leave the house for necessities, defined as groceries, medicines, caring for dependents, letting dogs do their thing, and, of course, tobacco).

I lived in Seattle for 10-plus years (up until 2017) and have a whole host of parks there that I love.

Here in Madrid, when they announced more significant social distancing measures last weekend (closures of bars/restaurants/retail stores), they didn't at first close the parks.

And what happened?

Tons of people went out to hiking trails (packing parking lots) and still met their running and soccer groups.

In response, by 4 pm that day, Madrid closed all public parks. That night, they announced the more strict lockdown measures with police enforcement.

Based on most epidemiological evidence, it seems that being in open air and avoiding others is plenty effective at preventing transmission. But unfortunately, the experience here was that people struggled to really maintain distance once they got outside—chats with neighbors or friends at the park were happening all over. Maybe that's a natural social response in times of fear, but it gave the impression that people weren't really taking the situation seriously.

As someone who usually goes for multiple walks every day, being cooped up is difficult. I hope people in Seattle take your article to heart and actually refrain from congregating when they get outside so that parks stay open and people can get fresh air without jeopardizing the benefits of social distancing.

Thanks to you and everyone at The Stranger for all your work. I'm making a donation now and wish you all the best through this shitstorm.

Thank you, Eric! Wishing you all the best, too.