Town of Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule issued an emergency order Monday closing all town recreation areas due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
"To reduce the exposure and the risks, I had no choice but to step it up," said Brule.
Monday's emergency order is the town's second order in the span of one week. Last Tuesday Brule issued an emergency order that still allowed people to use parks, but only for non-contact recreation with proper social distancing practices. Brule said that was not happening.
"We would have about 15 to 20 people at the dog park, 15 to 20 people walking by each other to get to our beach," explained Brule. "We had five-on-five basketball games going on and it was hard for me to stomach."
Now all town outdoor basketball hoops, including at schools, are tied up. Every park and recreation facility, from tennis courts to playgrounds, are closed. Drivers are met with a "closed" sign and barriers at park entrances.
"I think other communities are going to realize, they are going to need to do this as well," said Brule.
New London-based Ledge Light Health District has recommended all of their towns close playgrounds and prohibit group recreation. The health district has not yet released a recommendation on the closure of public open space and parks.
Neighboring localities to Waterford have increased restrictions on playgrounds a public recreation facilities, per Ledge Light's recommendation. The Town of East Lyme and the City of New London have each sectioned off basketball courts, tennis courts and other recreation areas. Playgrounds are also off-limits. Parks are still open in each jurisdiction.
Director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of East Lyme, Dave Putnam, said that every park, and the ability to maintain social distancing in the park, is different.
"Based on our talk with our town leaders, we have enough open space that we can still leave our parks open and hopefully people are responsible," said Putnam. "We need people to be responsible."
Putnam stressed that in order for the parks to stay open, people need to follow social distancing recommendations. He stressed that people should only be going to the park alone or with someone in their household. He also said that they are discouraging people from other towns to travel to East Lyme for its parks.
"Because we do not want to overcrowd our parks. We want to be good neighbors, but I think there is enough open space land," said Putnam.
Brule said that he did not see people in Waterford following the town's social distancing recommendations. That is when he decided he needed to take the more aggressive step of closing all parks.
"I am not doing this to restrict their movement. The sidewalks are still open. If you want to go for a walk around your block, go," said Brule. "It is the congregating of people in all of the parks and places here in Waterford was creating more of a problem than it was helping cure this."
The Waterford Police Department will be enforcing the order, however an officer with the department said that they are focusing on educating the public right now. They are hoping to avoid taking any serious enforcement measures. Officers will start patrolling the park areas more and will work on educating the public about the emergency order.
Brule had a sign printed for Waterford Town Hall that reads, "Sometimes we're tested, not to show our weakness, but to discover our strength. #staysafestayhome #unityinourcommunity."
"When you read the sign behind me, it means something here. We have been trying our best to keep this risk at bay," said Brule.
State parks across Connecticut remain open, including the state parks located in the Town of Waterford. People are encouraged to only go to the state park for solitary recreation.