April 17, 2021

The Seattle Parks Department Threatens To Reduce Service Due to COVID: Where is the Science?

A recent tweet by the Seattle Park department combines anti-science and intimidation, going so far as to threaten a reduction of park access to the residents of Seattle.

And if you are interested in equity for all of Seattle's residents, the Seattle Parks Department has other views.

Their tweet is below.   Parks staff will be "collecting data" in the parks this weekend to determine whether "limits" will be needed in the near future.     

The threat is clear:  if the parks are crowded this weekend expect a reduction in the availability of parking lots and reduced park hours.   With perfect conditions this weekend, the parks will be very busy.

And the control crowd in Seattle Parks was not done:  they tell Seattle residents to mask up in the parks (in contradiction to the best science) and suggest that park lovers go elsewhere-- to parks outside the city, showing pictures of King County parks (where the pictures show folks recreating without masks).

As noted in several of my previous blogs (here, here), the overwhelming scientific evidence is that outdoor air is very, very safe.   In fact, several more papers have come out in recent weeks that underline the safety of outdoor air, such as this one in the medical journal, the Lancet.  And many media outlets are starting to cover this fact (example here).

It has become very clear that the key mode of transmission of COVID-19 is small particles or aerosols, not surface contact or even big droplets ejected by infected individuals (reference here).   It is well known that ultraviolet light from the sun is lethal to COVID and there are large amounts of UV now with nearly clear skies and the sunny/long days of this time of the year.   Outdoors provide huge volumes of air for extreme ventilation, dispersing  COVID aerosols released by any infected individuals. 

As noted in my earlier blog, I have spent some time in local parks with a carbon dioxide sensor, finding excellent ventilation even when crowds are present.

Parks provide a remarkably COVID-free environment, which Seattle residents should enjoy without fear and where masks are not needed.  And the risk is further reduced by the large percentage of local residents that are already vaccinated (over 50% of adults 16  years and older according to the Seattle Times).

Seattle residents should be ENCOURAGED to enjoy outside recreation in parks, an environment far SAFER than inside spaces with far less ventilation and thus greater risk of COVID spread.  Instead, Seattle Parks is doing the opposite.  Just stunningly poor judgment.

Last year, Seattle Parks reduced hours and closed parking lots because of COVID, exactly the opposite of what a rational analysis would suggest. They plastered parks with threatening signs (see below and above).  They seem poised to make the same mistake again.

Then there is the issue of equity.  People with homes with large gardens or decks have outside spaces to enjoy fresh air, but what about those living in apartments?  Seattle Parks suggests folks should go to King County and parks outside the city, but what if one does not have a car?   

Rejecting both science and equity, Seattle Parks takes it one step further by laying a guilt trip on those who don't follow their rules.   Below is the banner from the top of the Seattle Parks Twitter page.  "With Great Parks Comes Great Responsibility".    They are not talking about THEIR responsibility to the citizens of Seattle but of individuals to follow Parks "rules."  To wear masks outside, even when unnecessary. To be fearful.  And to be alone.

But perhaps Seattle Parks is on to something.   

Perhaps THEY should take on some responsibility.  To ensure Seattle Parks are open without restriction.  To make sure that people are not intimidated and pushed to mask up all the time, something that gets in the way of aerobic activities and social interactions.  

And perhaps, they could remove the homeless encampments that have made a number of our prized parks no-go zones and dangerous.

Yes, Seattle Parks has a great responsibility.  Not let's see them live up to it, when the parks are needed more than ever.


  1. Not surprising, look at what Ontario is doing, Seattle Parks must be envious. The irony is, they say go get a vaccine, the science shows it works. But then completely dismiss science that shows transmission outside is negligible. So which is it? Excuse me for not being completely trusting of governing bodies.

  2. Gov. Inslee conducted a press conference last Thursday in front of a large banner that said "take it outside." I guess Seattle Parks didn't get the memo.

  3. Another fail by a city that has had too many.

  4. Let's take a moment and laud King County for taking a reasonable approach and even opening bathrooms on April 1st (really they did!). In our wooded enclave of private forestland well-masked newcomings are showing up in droves and gasping in panic as when they see unleashed dogs on private land.

  5. Here's a good wrap-up of the current status of aerosols research, centering around a paper/meta-analysis posted to The Lancet: https://kottke.org/21/04/case-closed-sars-cov-2-spreads-primarily-by-aerosols

  6. The science, per the CDC, about people living unhoused is that they are safer in individual spaces like tents than in congregate shelters. I imagine there are people who would prefer not to be reminded that this city has too large a homeless population and I would HOPE it is possible for everyone to enjoy park amenities even if there are tents nearby

  7. I subscribe to Sean Carroll's podcast Mindscape. Recently he had Zeynep Tufekci(April 5) on and she discussed the pandemic. What Mass is trying to tell us is in the podcast. Start at 50 minutes into the podcast. She explains where and how the WHO got it wrong about "droplets". Earlier in the podcast she tells how the academics failed to react. The WHO/CDCE, government, and large universities failed. Enjoy.

  8. So very well stated!! Thank you again for combining sound science and common sense in stating your case! 👏👍

  9. Please, stop terrifying our kids! The risk of infection from kid to kid and from kid to adult is very low. Children are forced into masks at the playground while 20 year olds nearby play sports or hang out next to each other with no masks, which is fine with me. But then, let kids play and interact with each other without having to cover their smiles!

  10. Cliff, in a previous blog "Is outside air COVID safe" you wrote "First, large virus-containing droplets tend to fall out close to the infected (that is why there is a six-foot "rule" for separation)." At first, I thought there would be a contradiction with this blog, but now I see there isn't. The bigger heavier droplets fall to the ground while the smaller aerosol particles are dispersed by the wind and killed by UV radiation.

  11. I refuse to wear a mask if I am outside and can maintain 6 foot separation. If I am working out or climbing a steep high altitude trail I need all the oxygen I can get the mask is too much of a hinderance. I scolded by a ranger in Olympic National Park this weekend for not wearing a mask, this made me pretty angry because not only was I way more than 6 feet away from other people but I'm vaccinated. Thank you so much Cliff Mass for being one of the few voices of reason in these paranoid times. I used to think highly of the park service but after all these rules I'm thinking alot less of the park service and next time they want to raise taxes or expand the park the vote might not go so well.

  12. The point is pretty clearly to deter people from having parties with their friends at parks. Seems very reasonable. You think an anti-masker is "intimidated" by these signs? Give me a break. Also, at best 50% of adults have received one dose. More like 30% are fully vaccinated.

  13. Seattle is radically dyfunctional. So glad we got out. Won't say where we went in WA State because the last thing we need is more thumb-sucking "progressives" out here. By the way, our property taxes fell by two-thirds, and there have been no riots here. Have fun downtown, kids!

  14. Is it true COVID is inactivated by UV light from the sun? My understanding is that light in the UV-C range is the most germicidal but is almost entirely absorbed by the ozone. UV-B is somewhat effective and more gets through, but I thought not enough passes the ozone to really inactivate COVID.

    1. What I've read is that it just takes longer than with UV-C, although you always have to keep in mind that reported times are just statistical averages. I can't remember the times I read--somewhere in the few minutes to an hour range. Also its complicated by what density of virons you start with and what the sensitivity of the detector is, whether the lab experiment really simulates actual conditions etc. If I remember right, early on there was a paper published that gave times the virus lasted on surfaces, but in retrospect, I think they started with larger than realistically likely amounts of virus. Also the tests are hard to do because you can't do PCR or antibody tests--they don't tell if the virus in intact or not--you have to check for functional virus--ie you try to infect a cell culture with it.

      I'm partway thru an online virology class, and so far one of my main takeaways is that most viruses have their RNA surrounded by repeating units of the nucelocapsid (often just called N) protein, and the units are stuck together by essentially electrostatic cling. The SARS-CoV2 N proteins clings tighter than flu viruses (what I read is that with flu, the N experiences significant breakup at 80-85F, but SARS-Cov2 is more like 140F). The interesting thing is that those N proteins have to dis-associate when the virus enters the cell in order to reveal the RNA, so they can only cling so tight. Hence they're mostly all vulnerable to breaking apart heat, energy absorbed from UV etc, or simply by coming in contact with other highly charged molecules (I imagine this a bit like a ball of sticky notes bouncing around on against other sticky surfaces). Even without UV, it seems that the virons all eventually fall apart in the 10s of hours time frame--depending on what they're exposed to, of course.

      My take is that the effect of dilution air outdoors is so great that the UV aspect over short time periods isn't all that relevant. The relevance of UV is that functional virus doesn't hang around outdoors over longer (hours+) time periods.

      There is a ton of good virus info here: https://www.virology.ws/virology-101/ Or you can find it yourself: search for "vincent racaniello virology". He teaches at Columbia. He also produces a podcast "this week in virology".

      Anyhow, I'm no expert. This is just my understanding due to a summer's worth of reading.

  15. This was also a well reasoned argument along the same lines-

  16. At it again, after the CDC statement on outdoor masking nonetheless. - "According to SDOT, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) “observed crowding and mask-noncompliance at Golden Gardens Park during the recent warm, sunny weekend, and are considering closing the parking lots and reopening Golden Gardens Dr NW to people walking,” SDOT shared in a press release about Keep Moving Streets. “Regular communication between SDOT and SPR will determine whether to move forward with this Keep Moving Street.”


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

New Podcast: Showers, Warm Up and Winds on the Eastern Cascades Slopes

  Cold, moist unstable air has been moving into the region on Saturday, with the showers obvious on the high-resolution visible satellite im...