In an effort to help contain the spread of coronavirus, the Lakeland City Commission today voted 5-2 to temporarily close many city parks and reduce public access to city buildings.

The park closures take effect at dusk today and will last at least a week; commissioners will evaluate the closures at a special meeting scheduled for next Monday at 3 p.m. Closures include:

  • Gated park spaces and gated trails
  • Parks spaces with picnic pavilions, playgrounds and/or bathrooms
  • Cleveland Heights Golf Course, including parking lots
  • Tennis and pickleball courts
  • Basketball courts 
  • Dog parks
  • Boat ramps

Commissioners Scott Franklin and Stephanie Madden voted against the measure, arguing that more flexibility is needed. Franklin pointed out inconsistencies, saying, “You can tell four people that they can’t play on the tennis court together, but a group of four people can walk around Lake Hollingsworth and that’s OK.”

Activities such as tennis and golf can continue under rules requiring social distancing, he said.

Madden said the city should help provide spots where families can enjoy fresh air while workplaces and schools are closed.

Commissioners were more spread out than normal today, though not necessarily six feet apart. Mayor Bill Mutz joined online; he is self-quarantined following a trip to Canada.

Commissioners based the initial seven-day closure on the notion that we’re eight days into the 15-day period that President Trump suggested for social distancing to tamp down corona virus.

Mayor Bill Mutz said the trajectory of the virus will guide next Monday’s decision and speculated that the parks closure will be extended.

The city acknowledged that many of its public spaces, including the Lake Hollingsworth trail and Lake Morton, can’t be closed off, but urged residents in an online post to follow social distancing guildelines.

As lobbies of city offices close to the public, officials are promoting ways to conduct city business online or by phone.

For now, household garbage and recycling schedules remain unchanged, though the city is considering limiting yard and bulk collection schedules.

As local businesses pivot to curbside delivery, take-out and other methods to reduce crowding, some have asked for relaxation of sign regulations to promote new services.

City Manager Tony Delgado said enforcement of sign regulations is being relaxed. Inspectors are “taking a hands-off approach unless we receive a complaint that we just can’t ignore.”

Two members of the public who spoke to commissioners today about park closings reflected a wide gap in approach to the call for social distancing and sheltering in place.

Retired accountant Marvin Tyler urged commissioners not to give in to media-driven hysteria and likened coronavirus to a flu, where you stay at home for a few days after you catch it. “I don’t see any reason to close a fresh-air park.”

Andre Hall, a University of Chicago student who said he studies infectious diseases, told commissioners, “I don’t understand how there can even be a debate to not close things … It seems very frustrating to allow more opportunities for the disease to spread.”

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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