It’s a pandemic. They wanted to skate. Could they be anymore obvious?
Skater boys, girls and their parents lobbied City Council to not close down Charlottesville’s skate park during a virtual meeting on Monday.
Before the weekend, the city issued a press release warning it would consider closing Parks and Recreation facilities if too many people were seen gathering as COVID-19 cases spike in Virginia and around the country. The release said more than 75 people were observed the previous weekend at the Skate Park.
Councilor Heather Hill said the release was meant to reiterate the need to follow social distancing guidelines.
“It’s really going to be the onus of the skate community to ensure they are following rules,” she said.
Skippy Norton, 12, understood the city’s concern about the park. Rather than stick up her nose at the city’s release, she joined her friends in making sure people wear masks and keep their distance at the park.
Skippy implored the council not to close the park, saying it “helps a lot of kids.”
“I can say for me, if I’m having a hard day I can go to the skate park and I know I’ll be happy,” she said. “It’s such a nice skate park. It’s so nice, it’s amazing and I love to see so many kids using it and learning how to skate.”
Jeanette Carver, whose children use the park, said skating isn’t a contact sport so the risk of transmission is lower. Carver said with winter setting in, fewer kids will likely be at the park so the size of gatherings would diminish.
Carver also said most of the children using the park are younger than 12 and at less risk from the virus.
Of the 5,852 cases reported by Tuesday in the Thomas Jefferson Health District, which includes Charlottesville, only about 20% were people 19 and younger. Children 9 years old and younger account for 3.8% of all cases. Six people younger than 19 have been hospitalized, but none have died.
Kerri Heilman said parents were reminding children to wear masks over the weekend and the possibility of losing the park was enough to reinforce safety measures.
“It’s a lifeline for my children,” she said.
Melissa Collier, whose child frequents the park, asked the council to give the children a chance to improve their safety measures.
“I think we as a community at the skate park will do whatever we need to do to make sure everyone is being safe,” she said. “Once you tell them what they need to do, they’re willing to do it because they don’t want to lose their skate park.”
Alice Christen, 12, said she goes to the park nearly every day and has been reminding patrons to be safe. She said the skaters need an outlet in difficult times.
“If you’re having a real bad day, just skating, even if you’re not skating really hard, it can put you in a much better mindset,” she said.
Aafreen Aamir, a junior at Monticello High School, said students are stuck inside all day with virtual learning and don’t have many outlets to interact with others.
The 16-year-old said as long as skaters continue to follow the rules, the park needs to stay open.
“There aren’t a lot of outlets for kids to go to places where they can have a lot of physical activity with peers around them. I think not having that has really affected people’s mental health tremendously,” Aafreen said. “I think the park is one of the only escapes kids my age and older and younger have to express themselves and have fun and I think if it came down to taking the park away, I don’t think that would be necessary in order to keep people safe.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook commended the response from skaters during the meeting.
“My hope was that if we just put the word out there that this was a problem, the community would take it amongst themselves to police themselves and this wouldn’t be a problem and I think that’s where we’re headed,” he said.
In related business, the council also updated its COVID-19 ordinance to match Gov. Ralph Northam’s amended executive order.
The city enacted a COVID-19 ordinance on July 27 and reauthorized it on Sept. 21.
A violation of the city’s ordinance is punishable as a Class 3 Misdemeanor or Class 4 Misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $500. Any gathering of more than 25 individuals in Charlottesville is subject to the ordinance’s provisions including potential criminal charges.