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Stillwater's historic stairs are shut down due to COVID-19

The stairs are a popular spot for runners and walkers.
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Among the more unusual casualties of the coronavirus shutdown in Minnesota are the Stillwater stairs.

The city located on the hills above the St. Croix River is dotted with stairs bringing pedestrians from the upper reaches to river level at Main Street.

There are five sets of historic steps within the city, per Discover Stillwater, but three of them are being shut down at the order of Mayor Ted Kozlowski.

The reason? The stairs are popular with walkers and runners in the city, featuring regularly in organized runs and fitness challenge websites.

With the coronavirus being passed on via droplets from infected people, there's a concern that those who use the stairs will get too close to each other, particularly with outdoor pursuits one of the few entertainment options available to Minnesotans during the shutdown.

As such, the stairs at Main Street, Chestnut Street, and Pioneer Park will be closed following Gov. Tim Walz's "Stay at Home" order, with Kozlowski admitting the move "is going to sting a little bit."

"After speaking with local health officials and our public safety folks and as much as this hurts I believe this decision makes sense," he wrote. 

"The weather is starting to get nice and I know we are all cagey to get outside. It's great to see everyone out and we encourage you to keep it up but we need to avoid tight areas."

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Kozlowski says he came to the decision following a conversation with a local doctor, who told him: "I am very concerned. One, these stairs are not very wide, so if you’re passing someone going in the opposite direction of you, you are within much less than 6 feet. 

"Two, if you are exercising on these stairs, you are breathing heavily, possibly coughing, and as I’m used to seeing people do while exercising on these stairs, often spitting. The heavy breathing alone is enough to put people at significant risk of viral spread. The handrail also increases the risk of contracting illness, as people touch it, then touch the caps of their water bottles to hydrate."

Kozlowski continued: "I know social distancing is hard, sometimes impossible but unlike our grocery stores, city buildings, etc. where we are constantly disinfecting handrails, doorknobs, and other things people touch, this is just not possible on our stairs.

"We all love our stairs and will open them as soon as possible."

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