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Shollenberger Park in Petaluma provides coronavirus escape

Chris and Nelia Magallon and their two young children shared a bench as they stared at the Petaluma wetlands, enjoying homemade sandwiches after a much-needed walk around Shollenberger Park.

By Thursday afternoon, the valley fog had subsided, and sunshine, voluminous clouds and blue skies helped color a vibrant green landscape visibly healthier after Wednesday’s rain.

It was welcome relief for the Rohnert Park family. They have spent most of three days indoors as the global coronavirus pandemic escalated with fresh cases in Sonoma County, causing local public health officials on Tuesday to order most people to stay home for three weeks other than running essential errands.

“The kids are going stir crazy,” said Nelia Magallon, 39. “They needed some sunshine to get some energy out.”

Shollenberger Park, the ?165-acre wetlands at Petaluma’s southern gateway, provided a bustling escape Thursday afternoon, a striking juxtaposition to the city’s east side business parks, which were almost empty, with most of the local workforce either working remotely or fewer hours. And service businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, have begun trimming staffs.

Local officials have encouraged visiting parks and staying active as the community takes refuge to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Still, the coronavirus was the hot topic of conversation for people walking the 2-mile trail Thursday afternoon.

Fresh air was a remedy for the caged-in feeling, said Sue Lassen, 58, of Petaluma and Denise Lesage-Mast, 58, of Cotati. The two friends wanted to see each other amid the frenzy of the pandemic, but still observed social distancing rules, sitting as far apart as they could on a bench near the entrance to the trail.

“I go between it’s going to be all right and the sky is falling,” Lassen said. “Sometimes my husband has to talk me down. It should be all right, but it’s just unnerving the lack of response (by the federal government), especially given what other countries are doing.”

Lesage-Mast has two school-age children, including a senior in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, who is “taking it pretty good” despite the growing reality that all extracurricular activities, including prom and graduation, could be canceled this spring.

“I just hope people are doing what they’re being told to do,” Lesage-Mast said. “That’s the biggest part. If they don’t, we’re going to be in this for a long time.”

Nelia Magallon, the Rohnert Park mother, works for Devcon Construction a few blocks away, and often walks the park loop during lunch. She said Thursday’s crowd was as large as she’s ever seen.

The Magallon family plans to come back to help get their children out of the house, as long as the weather cooperates.

Containing Lucas, 5, and Angelina, 2, has been a challenge, said Chris Magallon, who works for Cotati-Rohnert Park schools.

“It’s not good for him. He was enjoying (kindergarten), so it’s a downer,” Magallon said as he looked down at his son. “But if it’s as bad as everyone says it is, it’s the safest thing, I guess.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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