News & Features

COVID19 and Recreation graphic

Expert Q&A: RST's Laura Payne on COVID-19 and Recreation

The College of Applied Health Sciences has experts in many areas that have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Periodically we will ask these experts about how their areas of expertise have been impacted and what we can expect in a post-COVID-19 world. Today, we ask Laura Payne, professor and director of graduate studies in Recreation, Sport and Tourism, about how COVID-19 affects local parks and recreation.

Q: Which parts of the recreation industry are feeling the most pain now, and which will be the ones that are slowest to come back online when social distancing guidelines are eased or lifted?

A: Community recreation and parks agencies have been hit hard by COVID-19. Summer is the busy season for parks and recreation, and with the ongoing threat posed by the pandemic, many agencies have had to cancel or postpone programs and events such as sport leagues, fitness and arts programs, camps, and special events. Many agencies have moved to online fitness, arts, and e-sports programs. Youth and adult sports programs are likely to come back most slowly—this is due to the fact that many sport programs involve contact. Also, it is hard to say when playgrounds will be open again. A positive trend is that more, now than ever, people are drawn to parks for their physical, social and mental health benefits. Maintaining six feet of distance is vital for safe park use and as observed by my colleague Dr. Kim Shinew, this is difficult to practice consistently, especially on nice days when more people are outside.

Q: What will be the probable impact of COVID-19 on park and recreation agencies?

A: Some agencies have postponed capital projects such as construction of new and remodeled facilities and others have decided to continue some of their programming online, even after restrictions start easing. I have also heard of some agencies furloughing staff and re-organizing.

Q: What steps should agencies and employees be taking now?

A: Most agencies have pivoted to limited online programming. Much of this programming is free, with some more extensive programs being fee-based such as e-learning pre-school programs. They should also start planning for re-opening some of their facilities, but with different use guidelines. For example, when fitness and recreation centers re-open, they will clean and disinfect their facilities several times per day.

Q: What resources are available for agencies to utilize now?

A: The Illinois Park and Recreation Association is hosting Virtual Community Talks once per week—this is an online forum where professionals can share resources, ask and answer questions, and support each other. Each call is recorded so they can be played back. They can be accessed here. Also, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) provides guidance for parks and recreation spaces, facilities and programs. They offer specific guidance and links to additional information.

Q: What measures can recreation sites, such as parks, take that allow them to re-open in a modified fashion but still assure the public?

A: Many parks never closed—and agencies have placed signs in parks with guidance for maintaining six-foot distance and remind people that courts and playgrounds are not available for use. When facilities re-open, they will follow capacity guidelines, which means only the facility can be occupied up to 50 percent of its capacity and staff and patrons will wear masks. The facilities will also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Q: How does COVID-19 compare to other recent events such as SARS and 9/11 in terms of economic impact upon the recreation industry?

A: SARS was nothing compared to COVID-19; Also, 9/11 impacted the travel and tourism industry more than the local parks and recreation industry. If anything, community recreation and parks probably benefitted from 9/11 in that more people planned stay-cations and used their local parks and recreation agencies even more because it was comfortable and familiar. 

back to news