Outdoor pools, playgrounds reopen post-shutdown

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 4, 2020

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OAKLAND COUNTY — It was a late and wonky start, but the COVID-19 pandemic has finally eased enough to allow for summer to begin.

Since mid-March, playgrounds and recreation areas had been largely closed off to the public by order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with hopes of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that’s killed more than 5,000 Michiganders so far.

The Oakland County Health Division took that a step further in late May, joining Macomb and Wayne counties in banning all public swimming pools indefinitely.

But by June 3, both orders had been lifted by the governor, who moved Michigan into Phase 4 of reopening after the statewide shutdown, allowing public outdoor pools to open for the season. Just a few days later, Oakland County rescinded its ban on public playgrounds.

Healthy social distancing measures are still encouraged for visitors heading out to playgrounds, like staying 6 feet away from others not living in your own household, staying clear of large crowds, regular and vigorous hand washing, and keeping hand sanitizer with a 60% or higher alcohol content at the ready.

Whitmer’s newest order allows for outdoor parks and recreation facilities to open, but indoor playscapes and pools are still locked down. That includes arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, rock climbing venues, skating rinks, trampoline parks and, of course, indoor swimming pools and splash pads.

The Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department had announced early on in the quarantine that it would not open its two water parks this year in Waterford Township and Madison Heights. As of press time, Manager of Park Operations for Oakland County Parks and Recreation Sue Wells said the parks system’s beaches and lakes would remain closed until further notice.

“This would be our decision,” Wells said of whether or not lakes at Independence Oaks park, in Clarkston, or Groveland Oaks park, in Holly, would open, despite the lift of state bans.

“Both of our beaches are small. Patrons will have to maintain social distancing on land and in the water. We’re evaluating options like allowing a limited amount of people on the beachfront.”

In West Bloomfield Township, lifting the pools ban still won’t change the fact that the virus shutdown set back work on the planned “Splash Landing” splash pad, which was scheduled to open this summer. The grand opening has been pushed out to next year.

“The construction of our splash pad was delayed due to the COVID shutdown, so it would not have been completed in time to open for the summer anyhow,” said Meagan Kurnat, marketing manager for West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation.

Keeping indoor pools closed will “definitely negatively impact” all of the YMCA locations in the three counties, according to Latitia McCree, the organization’s senior vice president of communications and marketing for YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

Along with open swim times and fitness programs, the YMCAs are home to community swim teams. Without having a place to train and compete, McCree said it could be a blow to swimmers’ spirits — not to mention the Y’s bottom line.

“Revenues will definitely be impacted if we are unable to serve our competitive swim community,” she said. “We don’t have projected revenue losses regarding pool use at this time. Easily, we could lose thousands.”

Although pool water reportedly poses a low risk of transmitting COVID-19, it is difficult to maintain social distance in enclosed facilities.

While the pools are closed, operators still have to maintain the facility as scheduled to keep their license. Upon reopening, they’ll have to reach out to their respective public health authority for an opening inspection, including a water sample analysis.