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Social distancing disregard closes basketball court ... again

 

May 8, 2020



Cloquet city councilors tried to find a balance between keeping people safe on the one hand, and allowing them to have fun outside at city parks on the other during Tuesday’s online council meeting.

In the end, they chose safety in a time of pandemic, acknowledging that it is almost impossible to actually police the parks and ticket people who aren’t complying with orders to remain socially distanced while exercising outdoors.

Councilors voted 4-3 to close the Pinehurst Park basketball court which opened last month, and keep the skatepark and jungle gyms closed at least through May 18, when the governor’s extended stay-at-home order ends.

Police have gone to Pinehurst many times to break up large games of basketball, city administrator Tim Peterson said, adding that the groups had dispersed but often came back together within a short time.

“If and as the social unrest increases with every extension of the order, we do not have the resources or personnel to be at the parks dealing with these issues continuously,” acting Cloquet police chief Derek Randall wrote to other city officials last week after continuous calls for police to break up basketball games at Pinehurst.

While the idea of a full-court game of basketball as an expression of social unrest may seem like a stretch, Cloquet doctor Ken Ripp pointed out something infection experts have been talking about.

“People are getting sick of staying home,” Ripp said. “They’re getting quarantine fatigue.”

Hence the young people playing basketball in large groups with little regard for social distancing.

Ward 4 councilor Kerry Kolodge attended the Parks Commission meeting this week and said commissioners seemed to favor opening everything.

Peterson presented the council with the idea of either opening up everything at the parks — including the playgrounds and skatepark — or closing everything down. If they chose to open, the city would put up signs asking people should follow guidelines and know that equipment cannot be kept clean by city staff.

“With the basketball court we thought we could put the rims up, and hopefully people would follow social distancing,” Peterson said. “They haven’t. At all. At the same time, we kept the skatepark closed because it’s an area where there’s not as much room and, frankly, they weren’t able to follow social distancing. That’s not fair. … Frankly, the longer this goes on, we have a general sense that the unrest is growing and growing with it.”

Jason Laubach was playing basketball at the park after the council vote, and said he wasn’t against shutting it down.

“I saw the kids down here playing full-court games. It was surprising. Youthful indiscretion,” he said. “I’m not so worried about it (COVID-19) but you gotta worry about bringing it to your grandparents.”

When it came time to vote, councilors Sheila Lamb, Bun Carlson, Lara Wilkinson and mayor Roger Maki voted to take the rims down at the basketball court and close it, while also keeping the skatepark and playgrounds closed. Other facilities, like tennis and pickleball courts, can remain open because there haven’t been obvious violations of social distancing measures.

 
 

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