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Health order enforcement challenging as Boulder worries about outdoor gathering, coronavirus transmission persist

Open spaces seeing dip in visitation from last week

Rylee Keys walks her dog Rosie on nearly deserted sidewalks through an office park in Gunbarrel on April 1, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Rylee Keys walks her dog Rosie on nearly deserted sidewalks through an office park in Gunbarrel on April 1, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Gunbarrel resident Rylee Keys is nervous to walk her dog around her neighborhood.

With Coloradans relegated to home amid public health orders meant to slow the spread of the coronvavirus, residential trails and streets have swelled with users, and open space properties were seeing spikes in visitor numbers.

That presented a problem to Keys, who is concerned with social distancing guidelines not being properly followed on more crowded neighborhood routes and has started driving to a less busy business park for her dog walks.

“This morning a hacking, huffing and spitting runner refused to give my dog and I enough space, and was very rude when I asked him to,” Keys said Tuesday on Twitter. “… I will have to wear my mask more often, even on neighborhood walks outside, which is a huge bummer.”

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week warning that as many as 25% of people infected with the novel cononavirus may not show symptoms, it is impossible to know for sure who to avoid, and therefore imperative that social distancing be regarded in all cases, indoors and out, to slow the spread to a level manageable for local health care systems, officials have said.

“Runners and cyclists, in particular, seem to like to assume that their speed means they’re not in proximity long enough for transmission to occur, ignoring that they’re expelling potentially contagious particles further with heavier, forced breathing, hacking and coughing and sheer speed,” Keys told a reporter.

City leaders have begun taking action at parks such as removing tennis nets, and open spaces have started to see a decline in visitors possibly tied to education around the public health mandates. Though enforcement of the governor’s stay-at-home order is still vexing local officials.

Boulder has installed signs in parks notifying people of the need for social distancing, but people continue to violate the guidelines on playgrounds and elsewhere, City Manager Jane Brautigam said. Local officials are not yet handing out tickets to fine people in violation of the state lock down.

“It puts the city in a difficult position,” Bruatigam said. “We don’t really know how to effectively get someone out there in the moment to enforce these things, because really the police department can’t be in charge of enforcing the playground social distancing. So it’s an issue for us.”

Boulder police are prioritizing emergent situations, and Boulder County Public Health is the main enforcement arm of the public health order. Meanwhile, community members can access a form to report violations they witness online at

City police, though, are still responding to calls that could involve large public gatherings. Since last Thursday through Tuesday evening, according to Interim Boulder Police Chief Carey Weinheimer, police have fielded about 20 of those calls, with the reports ranging from groups playing soccer or basketball, to close gatherings occurring during landscaping or construction work. The latter activities are allowed under the order.

Open spaces may have seen a dip in visitors over the last few days, from when many were packed late last week, due to the return of students from scheduled time off back to their studies, now being conducted in virtual classrooms.

“Spring break could have created a spike for us,” Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Director Dan Burke said. “… I think education (about the order) is starting to take hold as well. I don’t know if I could call it a trend yet, but certainly the last couple days we’ve gotten indications from our rangers that visitation levels and social distancing are both getting better.”

City Council has so far stopped short of recommending Brautigam put into local effect any additional restrictions beyond the state’s current orders on gathering or leaving the home.