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Hillsborough County, Tampa close public parks amid rise in coronavirus cases

The Tampa Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard will remain open for now, but residents are urged to exercise in their own neighborhoods.

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TAMPA — With no schools in session, stores closed and hubs of entertainment shuttered, too many restless Hillsborough County residents isolated indoors to stop the spread of the coronavirus have turned to local parks, elected officials said.

So all city and county parks and preserves are being closed to the public.

All boat ramps currently open will remain open, an announcement from the county said. And the City of Tampa has elected to keep its two most popular linear parks — Bayshore Boulevard and the Tampa Riverwalk — open to the public, at least for now.

But the closures will affect all other parks and park facilities within county lines, including neighborhood parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, dog parks, conservation parks, nature preserves and athletic fields and complexes. Even tennis courts. City workers were seen Thursday taking nets down.

The closures are part of a countywide effort to prevent gatherings of 10 or more and coincide with the issuance of a county-wide safer-at-home order that can be read in full here.

Initially, both the city and the county intended to keep parks open to the public to allow residents to get some fresh air and “break the monotony” of staying at home, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Friday. But too many people took advantage of community parks, playgrounds and bike trails, she said. On some occasions, local police had to break up large groups that had gathered to play a team sport or participate in other group activities that didn’t follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s call for all individuals to maintain a 6-foot distance from others at all times.

Instead, the mayor urged residents to get their exercise in their own neighborhoods.

“The reality is this is going to be a long haul,” Castor said. “This isn’t going to be over in a couple of weeks. We haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg yet.”

More information on the county’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic can be found online at HCFLGov.net/StaySafe or by calling the county’s main information line at (813) 272-5900.

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