Grocery stores, which as an essential service have remained open amid a statewide stay-at-home order, are using tape markers on the floor to keep people separate while they wait in line.

As Maine heads into summer uncertain with what it will bring, the question should be asked: Is it possible to put tape on a sandy beach?

Keeping people off of beaches and trails, and out of public parks, has been part of the strategy of physical distancing. The strategy appears to be pushing down the number of new cases of COVID-19 — but public spaces can’t stay closed forever.

If the coronavirus outbreak forces Mainers to continue to abide by stay-at-home orders, or if we have to return to them later in the summer or fall after a break, people will need access to the outdoors. The longer this goes on, in fact, the more important it becomes, both for physical and mental health, that we find a way to use outdoor public spaces responsibly, so that they can be enjoyed, not shut down.

The early results are not very encouraging. Even in the spring, beaches in Saco, Scarborough and Old Orchard Beach were busy as late as March 21. Vaughn Woods in Hallowell was closed when people wouldn’t distance themselves from others. South Portland is considering closing three popular outdoor spaces — a beach and two parks — because visitors were not staying at least 6 feet from each other.

In addition, Acadia National Park has been closed, as were 10 coastal state parks in southern and midcoast Maine. Beaches in Kennebunk, Wells, Ogunquit and Kittery have been closed. An uncountable number of playgrounds and outdoor basketball and tennis courts are off limits. What’s more, gyms are all closed too.


Whether you want to work up a sweat or just get outside, your options are much more limited than they were just a few weeks ago. That’s not good for our personal health, or for our collective sanity.

There are indications that physical distancing is working, and Maine may soon begin to reopen some of the places that have been closed in response to the outbreak. Physical distancing, however, likely will still be required in many of these areas in order to prevent another surge in cases. If there is a surge later this summer or fall, it would likely mean another round of severe restrictions.

Mainers need to plan now to make sure in either case that public spaces stay open. Will it require that the number of people allowed into parks and beaches is limited? Can they be properly spaced out? Should masks be required?

Officials should also consider other ways to expand the outdoor areas open for use. Oakland, California, is closing 74 miles of streets to vehicle traffic to give pedestrians more space. Municipal and school parking lots could also provide space for activities.

It will take planning from officials, and a little flexibility and patience from everyone else. But even in the age of COVID-19, Maine can have a summer and fall full of outdoor activity.

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