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Officials frustrated by LIers' refusal to follow social distancing guidelines

Estella Park in Seaford is closed due to

Estella Park in Seaford is closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, one of dozens on Long Island that are no longer open to the public. Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Keldy Ortiz, Carl MacGowan, John Asbury, Ted Phillips and Dandan Zou. It was written by Ortiz.

Local government officials are growing increasingly frustrated with Long Islanders not adhering to social distancing guidelines, warning that they may resort to issuing summonses and closing more parks and other public spaces to force compliance.

Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer said officials have received calls from residents pointing out various places where social distancing guidelines are not being followed. He said officials have fenced off the basketball court and skateboard park in Tanner Park in Copiague and that he has not closed all parks because some offer residents a place to go for a stroll.

“But if it then becomes a problem, where people don’t follow the social distancing guidelines, we may have to do that because these people refuse to comply,” Schaffer said. “We have our public safety personnel out. They’re breaking up these groups that are going to any of the facilities we fenced off. I’ve told them if they believe someone is purposely violating the guidelines, they have no problem issuing them a summons as well.”

As the virus accelerates, officials are increasing their efforts to stop its spread by making more public spaces off-limits, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who on Wednesday ordered the closure of New York City playgrounds after social distancing guidelines were disregarded.

Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke closed all the city’s parks, beaches and its golf course on Monday, as well as the dog park and Welwyn Preserve, because people haven’t practiced social distancing.

“The Glen Cove Police Department has advised that there have been numerous cases of social distancing violations,” Tenke wrote in a statement posted on the city website. “As we work to slow the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus in our City, we need to take the directives for social distancing very seriously.”

Droplets from a sneeze or cough can travel up to 6 feet and land on people nearby, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is why officials have stressed the importance of maintaining a safe social distance. 

In Brookhaven, town officials said they recently had to break up a soccer game in Mount Sinai and tell the players to disperse. Town parks and playgrounds were closed to the public at least a week ago. The only activities allowed are hiking and biking, at safe distances apart.

In Long Beach, where officials shut the boardwalk on March 26 due to crowd control concerns, new signage has been installed around restaurants labeling downtown areas as curbside-only parking areas. 

City officials found groups of people were congregating last week outside bars and restaurants while picking up takeout orders. City leaders are urging customers to place their orders in advance and only park for up to 10 minutes.

In Oyster Bay Town, officials have had to make staffing changes to try to ensure residents adhere to social distancing guidelines. Public safety officers have been reassigned from the bay constables and government buildings to boost the number of officers patrolling parks from 12 to 20 to enforce the guidelines, town spokesman Brian Nevin wrote Wednesday in an email. 

The town has also brought back 24 parks department staff who had been deemed nonessential to issue verbal warnings to parkgoers violating social distancing practices. The town also contacted residents via robocall to ask parents to tell their children about the importance of social distancing while using town parks, Nevin said.

In Nassau and Suffolk, whether officials have closed public spaces and facilities or not, there is agreement that social distancing is not voluntary but mandatory. 

“They’re putting people who have to be out there, essential workers, whether they be law enforcement or medical personnel or our volunteers in the EMS rescue system, firefighters, in jeopardy,” Babylon’s Schaffer said Wednesday. “Most of them are adults who are supposed to know better, who are supposed to be teaching their kids we’re in a pandemic.” 

Crowds have not been a problem in North Hempstead Town, said spokesman Gordon Tepper, because town facilities and parks are already closed to the public. But Supervisor Judi Bosworth said social distancing should remain a priority. 

“I cannot be emphatic enough: The only way to maintain public health right now is by staying apart. This includes social distancing — even for children,” Bosworth said during a remote town board meeting Monday. “While this may serve as a temporary inconvenience, understand that the decisions we are making can literally save lives.”