Playground Closures in America

Examining Closures State-by-State

Across America, states, counties, and municipalities are facing unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because public health realities differ significantly from place to place, local authorities are responding in a variety of ways. That includes decisions about whether to limit access to spaces for play, and for jurisdictions that do decide to open, how to do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner.

Given the vast racial and economic inequities between communities, the reopening of playgrounds may exacerbate existing disparities for kids who need play the most.

This is why understanding playspace access is so critical. When playgrounds are safe to open, the neighborhoods where these spaces are needed most, must be opened first.

As the national leader on access to high-quality playspaces, KABOOM! investigated how the closure of public schools and state and county guidance on parks and recreation are impacting access to playgrounds for kids and families across the country.

We analyzed available data for each state to better understand the status of these playground closures.

Analysis and Findings

Our examination includes both a national view of school and playground closures as well as an in-depth look at how playground closures are being handled at the local level in Maryland, where KABOOM! has historically done a significant amount of work.

While this information is ever-changing, the information below provides an important snapshot into how playgrounds are being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis at this critical juncture.

Public Park/Playground Closures, by State
Examples of Playground Closure Language
Decisions on Playground Closures are up to Local Interpretation
Public School Closures, by State
State of Maryland Public Park/Playground Closures, by County
Examples of Maryland Playground Closure Language

National Map of Public Park/Playground Closures, by State

Click or tap on a state for a snapshot on the state's child population, public park closures, and public-school playground closures.

  • Legend
  • Open with Guidance
  • Closed or Assumption of Closure
  • No explicit state directive
  • Compiled using data through June 2, 2020

Nationally, playgrounds are explicitly or assumed closed in 16 states and Washington, D.C.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C. have explicit language in state-level executive or public health orders that close playgrounds statewide.

  • This impacts over 23 million (23,189,326) Americans under the age of 18.
  • The jurisdictions are home to 32% of Americans under the age of 18.
  • These jurisdictions have a total population of over 106 million residents (106,366,602) or 33% of Americans in total.

Examples of Playground Closure Language

Seven states have re-opened playgrounds with specific state-level guidance. Guidance provided at the state-level tends to focus on social distancing protocols, the sanitation of equipment, and other hygiene practices.

The following is a representative sample of language used in state-level orders closing playgrounds.

Alabama "Higher-risk businesses and activities. Effective May 11, 2020, and notwithstanding any other provision of this order, the following businesses, venues, and activities shall not take place or be closed to spectators, audience members, or members of the public to which these businesses, venues, and activities are normally open: Activities on commercial or public playground equipment."
Colorado "Playgrounds, playground equipment, and gymnasiums remain closed. Gymnasiums include fitness, dance, exercise or group classes, exercise studios and centers, recreation centers, bowling alleys, pools, and other indoor athletic facilities."
Indiana "All places of public amusement, whether indoors or outdoors, including locations with amusement rides, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, festivals, parades, children's play centers, playgrounds, funplexes, theme parks, bowling alleys, sport and entertainment venues, movie and other theaters, concert and music halls shall remain closed."
Nevada "Recreational Areas: Local governments shall continue limiting the general public's use of shared recreational equipment, including playground equipment, basketball courts, volleyball courts, baseball fields, beaches, or football fields, in a manner that causes the congregation of ten or more persons in a manner contrary to best COVID-19 disease mitigation social distancing practices."

Decisions on Playground Closures are up to Local Interpretation

Across state-level orders, guidance specific to playgrounds was lacked clarity. From state to state the definition of what constituted non-essential parts of parks and recreation varied widely. There were a number of states where closure of playgrounds could be implied, but were not included in our analysis because playgrounds were not specifically named in these orders.

There is uneven state-level guidance on playgrounds, leaving decisions on closures up to local interpretation in many cases.

Analysis of National Public School Closures, by State

Click or tap on a state for a snapshot on the state's population and public-school closures.

  • Legend
  • State Ordered, or Recommended, Closure
  • Closure Expired
  • Compiled using data through June 2, 2020

Mandatory public-school closures in 40 states and D.C. impacts playground access for nearly 34 million public school students.

Forty states and D.C. have state order closures for public schools, many of which go through the rest of the academic year. Closures across these 40 states and DC impacts nearly 34 million (33,588,273) or 66% of public school students nationwide. Further, in eight states there are recommended closures where nearly every school is closed. Recommended closures in these eight states impact nearly 17 million (16,714,371) public school students or 33% of public-school students nationwide.

Finally, two states (Montana and Wyoming) have expired school closure orders, leaving re-opening for academic year 2019-2020 to local discretion. Assuming that all public schools are closed, this impacts over 50 million public school students nationwide.

Education Week is tracking COVID-19 related school closures closely and has more information.

Analysis of Closures of Maryland Parks, by County

Click or tap on a county for a snapshot on the population and park and playground closures.

  • Legend
  • Closed
  • Open
  • Compiled using data through June 2, 2020

In Maryland, 71% of counties have issued directives explicitly closing playgrounds

Governor Hogan's original state-level order did not explicitly call out playgrounds, however 71% of counties (17 out of 24) have issued directives explicitly closing playgrounds.

The closure of playgrounds in these counties impacts over 1 million Marylanders under 18 (1,141,630) and over 5 million Marylanders overall (5,110,762).

When reviewing Maryland counties' websites, it became clear that many county parks — while open for more passive forms of recreation such as walking or trail use — were explicitly closing playgrounds even though not explicitly mentioned in the Governor’s executive order.

Further, with the loosening of restrictions at the state-level in Maryland, we found that some jurisdictions had prominent guidance demonstrating that playgrounds were now open.

Examples of Maryland Playground Closure Language

The following is a representative sample of language used in Maryland's county-level orders closing playgrounds.

Baltimore City "Playgrounds and Equipment: All playgrounds, courts and outdoor exercise equipment are not to be used unless otherwise posted."
Caroline County "The Governor's most recent Executive Order moves the State toward Phase I recovery and included the reopening of State Parks and certain sport activities like tennis and golf. The Governor’s order also provided the local Health Officer with the authority to set restrictions to meet local needs to contain virus spread. The Caroline County Health Officer did this on May 14, 2020 and has closed the following facilities in local and community parks: Playgrounds, Basketball Courts, Public Restrooms and Portable Toilets, and Outdoor Fitness Equipment is closed for public use.
Frederick County "Currently, County parks are open with modified hours of sunrise to sunset. Some facilities and/or amenities inside those parks may have limited or no access to the public. Currently, all water fountains have been shut off and all functioning restrooms in parks are closed. Porta-Johns have been added where needed to provide options for walkers in the park. All county park playgrounds will be closed until further notice."
Louisiana "While the outdoor areas surrounding County recreation centers remain open, the public is reminded that all playgrounds are closed. Residents should not participate in team or contact sports or activities involving physical contact or sharing of equipment."

Some counties in Maryland are providing guidance to local residents as they reopen playgrounds.

St. Mary's County Health Department

St Mary's County Health Department

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Laurel County Health Recreation and Parks

Carrol County Health Recreation and Parks

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MethodologyHow the Information Was Sourced and Limitations

Schools: KABOOM! consulted EdWeek's national map and regularly updated list of school closures to determine the number of public school students impacted by lack of playspace access. Note, this analysis does not include private or parochial schools. We also took a conservative approach by not assuming that all schools were closed in states with recommended closures.

State-Level Executive Orders: KABOOM! examined state-level gubernatorial or state health orders to determine whether playgrounds were specifically ordered closed. We only coded states as "closed" or "assumption of closure" if there was a specific mention of playgrounds in the order or associated guidance.

County-Level Examination: KABOOM! examined county government, parks and recreation, and health websites for information about local closures in Maryland. In some cases, staff called counties directly to source information when information was not immediately apparent on county websites.

Population Estimates: In accordance with best practice, KABOOM! used ACS 1-year estimates (2018) in looking at state-level data given the large population size. For Maryland, KABOOM! used ACS 5-year estimates (2018) for county-level population data which have the ability to capture smaller counties that 1-year estimates for 2018 do not include.

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