BETHLEHEM — Various town facilities and programs at town parks are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the town is awaiting guidance on how to best regulate them this summer, according to Parks and Recreation Administrator Jason Gallo.
At the virtual June 11 Town Board meeting, Gallo said his department is waiting for further guidance from the state government, the Centers for Disease Control, the Albany County Department of Health and the American Red Cross.
In terms of how to regulate facilities and programs this summer, including those at the Elm Avenue Park, Gallo’s department will refer to the National Recreation and Parks Association, the state Recreation and Parks Society, the Capital Region Parks and Recreation Association and the United States Tennis Association as resources.
For swimming pools and spray pads, the town has not done job-specific training or given certifications for potential employees this year, which it normally would have done in May or June, according to Gallo. The pandemic also prevented the pool facilities from receiving their scheduled maintenance (normally in April and May) like inspections, cleaning locker rooms and relocating stored equipment to the pools. The town was not able to also order credit card machine rentals.
“Nobody is buying pool passes,” Gallo said. “Once March hit which is when we typically see pool passes happen online, we’ve really had next to zero sales and only had a handful that were done in January and February.”
While the Elm Avenue Park pool complex remains closed this summer unless the town receives further guidance ahead, Gallo said his department would need 30 days to prepare for the pools’ reopening if allowed; he noted that time is starting to run out as July nears though.
If pools can reopen, they would reduce capacity to between 25 to 50 percent; have reduced hours and try to operate with cashless or pay-as-you-go transactions. Hand sanitizer stations, social distance markers, COVID-19 signage and plexiglass at the front desk would be installed. But bathroom use would be limited, and locker rooms and showers would be closed.
Gallo said the pool complex may be opened for segmented times throughout the day. “So you open up the pool for, let’s say, a two-and-a-half or three-hour block; then close it; you disinfect parts of the facility that have touchpoints; and you reopen to a new group,” he said.
However, he noted that staff safety “is absolutely on my mind. … The idea of staff responding to distressed swimmers is on my mind.”
He continued, “Enforcing swimmers to stay six feet apart while in the water? I have to see it to believe it and I’m not saying it can’t be done and people will do their best. But any kid who goes underwater, closes his eyes and pops back up, he doesn’t know where he’s going to be sometimes and it just might be inadvertent. The first thing we do when we typically pop out of the water is breathe out and that’s where those droplets are created. It’s the droplets that we’re concerned about.”
While there are no set guidelines yet, Gallo assumed that patrons must wear masks by the pool but can remove them when physically using the pool. It’s unclear if the town will prescreen patrons before they enter the pool facilities or if a COVID-19 clause would be introduced in case a patron or staff member contracts COVID-19.
“These are all questions that I really would need guidance from our health department to help formulate how to effectively implement a plan,” Gallo said.
Gallo also said summer programs will be “dramatically reduced” to curb the spread of COVID-19 and address concerns of people having to wear masks for long periods of time during the hot summer.
For example, Kid’s Club will become a half-day program. “We’re going to institute small group sizes, conduct daily health screenings and this is going to be for residents only. That will be consistent as you’ll see throughout what we do during these times,” he said. “We’re really going to be focusing on what we can do for our residents — only our residents and not opening up to non-residents.”
Other summer programs expected to happen this year include Kidz Art in mid-August, Club Scientific, 10 & Under Tennis, history paddles, yoga and HIIT (a high-intensity training program). The latter two will initially be held virtually until the Capital District, now in phase two of reopening, reaches phase four; it can then be held in person.
For more information on the Parks and Recreation’s summer camp programs, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/302/Camp-Corner.
Playgrounds and basketball courts across towns will remain closed until the Capital District reaches phase four. “Basketball is considered a contact sport,” Gallo said. “But there will be changes. We’ll have to have social distancing and/or at least masks if we can’t social distance.”
He also said there will be signage promoting proper hygiene practices, handwashing and proper cough etiquette. Regarding enforcement of the guidelines, people would self-police one another and Parks and Recreation staff will inform people if they are present, Gallo said.
Town fields, including the Elm Avenue Park Line Drive playing fields, are technically not closed but are only open to family use — for groups of 10 or less. Once the Capital District reaches phase four, team competitions at the fields can resume but youth sports organizations must provide their intent to demonstrate compliance for group activities via a submitted plan to Parks and Recreation staff.
Gallo said part-time seasonal staff must return to maintain grooming and lining fields too.
Pavilions will remain closed, with rentals canceled through June, until the Capital District reaches phase four. “Pavilion rentals are a key source of revenue,” Gallo said. “Not having these rentals for the month of June is a tough hit.”
When they can reopen, they will allow for a reduced capacity (the town is waiting on guidance from the state on how much); people must still stay six feet apart and wear masks if unable to; and it will be open for groups of 10 or less for now.
For more information, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/140/Parks-Recreation or contact Gallo at [email protected]