Update, March 25, 4:22 p.m. Today, the East Bay Regional Park District an updated list of parks, parking lots and other areas that will be closed to limit overcrowding at its open spaces. Fourteen new park areas will be closed beginning March 27 through April 30. One of the new closures is the main parking area at popular off-leash dog park Point Isabel in Richmond. The update also outlines the EBRPD’s COVID-19 safety policies, including the new leash policy for dogs: “[T]o maintain the 6-foot social distancing requirement during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Park District is requiring dogs to be on leash in all park areas.” On Tuesday, spokesman Dave Mason told Berkeleyside that EBRPD is asking the public to comply with the new leash rule, but it will not be enforcing it at this time. Berkeleyside has asked the EBRPD for clarification on whether dogs will be required to be on leash at Point Isabel.
Update, March 24, 6:15 p.m. A press release from Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley posted before 6 p.m. states “all City of Berkeley play structures, athletic courts, dog parks and certain sports fields” are now closed to enforce social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Nine parks, including Ohlone Dog Park, will be closed entirely. The off-leash dog area at Cesar Chavez Park is not specifically mentioned, but the statement says open space in large parks will be accessible as long as visitors enjoy it alone or with members of their own household.
Original story: The East Bay Regional Park District is asking dog owners to keep their pets on leash at all of its parks that allow dogs, effective immediately. The city of Berkeley may not be far behind in imposing a similar rule at its parks. The new policy aims to help enforce social distancing.
Gary Bland learned this firsthand Tuesday. Bland takes his two rescue dogs to Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley daily — sometimes twice a day — for walks in the designated off-leash dog area. But Tuesday, at around 11 a.m., the 73-year-old Berkeley resident said he was approached by an animal control officer who told him the off-leash area would be closed later that day. The officer told Bland that not only Cesar Chavez, but all parks across the East Bay, would be restricting off-leash access because people were not social distancing enough in those areas. Bland said the officer was not issuing tickets, but was “giving a heads up alert.”
“I had a lot of questions and issues with that. It didn’t quite make sense to me,” Bland said.
After hearing from Bland, Berkeleyside contacted Berkeley Animal Care Services, who said BACS was not behind the new off-leash dog rules, but confirmed that closure of off-leash dog parks would likely be coming, including at Cesar Chavez and Ohlone parks, both managed by the city of Berkeley.
Berkeleyside has asked the city for clarification and was waiting to hear back at publication time.
Dave Mason, spokesman for the park district, said he couldn’t speak for city parks, but confirmed that the EBRPD is asking owners to keep their dogs on leash at all of the East Bay’s regional parks.
“During this COVID-19 crisis, we’re asking people to keep their dogs on leash. Even dogs need to social distance,” Mason said.
Other “soft closing” measures, such as those that have been put in place at some state parks, are also in the pipeline. Mason said the EBRPD will be closing some parking lots and access points in the coming days “to limit and minimize unsafe overcrowding.” An announcement will be made Wednesday about which parks will be affected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states there is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 or are a source of the infection to humans or other animals. Although two dogs have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, likely transmitted from close contact with infected people, neither dog fell ill with the disease. There is no evidence linking animals with the spread of COVID-19 to humans. Still, health officials are recommending that people with COVID-19 limit contact with animals. In addition, as infected individuals can be asymptomatic, they are advising, out of an abundance of caution, that people not touch other people’s dogs.
Mason said the EBRPD made the decision to restrict off-leash dog access due to the large crowds using East Bay open spaces, especially on the weekends.
“We started talking about it yesterday or the day before because of the numbers of folks we’re seeing at the parks and the need to maintain social distancing,” he said. Social distancing requires that individuals stay at least 6 feet away from each other and leashing dogs will better allow their people to maintain that space with others in public areas.
Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, parks have seen a huge inflow of visitors. Outdoor activities — including walking, hiking and running — are allowed under the mandate that requires people to mostly stay at home. The day after the order went into effect, the East Bay Regional Park District temporarily closed parks entrances “to address shelter-in-place needs and staffing limitations,” but reopened them the following day to the relief of area residents. But this past weekend, a growing communal case of cabin fever and a bout of sunny weather drove too many people at once to seek the great outdoors.
Mason said the large number of visitors made it difficult for people to maintain the proper distance from one another, and that, in some instances, people were gathering en masse and picnicking, activities that are restricted under the shelter-in-place order.
The EBRPD has closed many facilities, including picnic areas, and, due to staffing shortages, removed trash cans because there are not enough workers to empty them. Although visitors have been asked to pack in and pack out their own trash, piles of refuse — including many bags filled with dog poop — have recently been left at trailheads, where trash receptacles previously were placed.
“We really need the public’s help in being good park visitors by social distancing 6 feet apart,” Mason said. “We need the public’s help in having no gatherings, no group outings and no picnicking. We’re asking folks to do that as part of being safe and helping parks stay open.”
As for Bland, he said he’ll still likely take his dogs to Cesar Chavez Park, even if they have to remain on leash.
“Well, I gotta do something. One’s an old dog. The boy dog, he’s about 6 years old, he needs exercise. I need to find something to do with him.”
[Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to clarify and add more information about what is currently known about coronavirus and pets.]