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Columbia playgrounds, pools reopen under new COVID-19 order

Flat Branch playground


The Columbia/Boone County health department's COVID-19 order that went into effect Tuesday allows playgrounds, parks, spraygrounds, trails and pools to reopen.

Mike Griggs, director of Columbia Parks and Recreation, said research shows that SARS, influenza and other viruses die out at 86 degrees in just a few minutes. Griggs said the warmer temperatures mean viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19 can't linger on playground equipment for long.

But he said social distancing will hard to enforce.

Griggs believes that some of Columbia's major destination playgrounds such as Cosmo Park and Stephens Lake Park are going to be the hot spots where people gather. He said Parks and Recreation employees will try to educate park users when it comes to overcrowding situations.

"So our park rangers will come out there and they'll say, 'Hey, you really need to spread it out a little bit more and hopefully that'll do it,'" Griggs said.

Griggs said the safest practice is for children to use hand sanitizer.

Griggs said if parents see that a playground is swarming with kids they should look for a different area to play.

Columbia Parks and Recreation will sanitize playgrounds, but Griggs said the department can't do it after every time someone uses it. Griggs said to make sure children wash their hands well after playing.

"So it's just like when we were all told we were a little," Griggs said. "Wash your hands before you eat. Now wash your hands before you touch your face."

The new Columbia/Boone County order states that pools may open, but an attendant must monitor and enforce social distancing. If there is no attendant, up to 25 people are allowed in the pool.

Griggs said city pools will practice social distancing because lifeguards, managers and attendants will be present in most areas.

Bridget Gruender, a doctor at Liberty Family Medical, said chlorine is supposed to kill the coronavirus. But if people don't maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves they can still spread the virus while in the water.

“If you're standing in the water and somebody else is standing within 6 feet of you, also in the water but their head is out, then it's obviously going to be transmissible back that way,” Gruender said.

Gruender also said to keep in mind even if you use pool restrooms just to change clothes you are still touching doors and handles, so be sure to wash your hands after going into any restroom.

Columbia Parks and Rec pools will limit the number of people inside by enforcing two-hour sessions.

Griggs said when Albert-Oakland pool opens up on June 12, people can swim from noon to 2 p.m. Then the pool will temporarily close as employees sanitize everything.

The pool will reopen again for another two-hour session from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and then close and sanitize again.

Griggs said the deck furniture will be removed and people are asked to bring their own pool furniture.

"We're going to do multiple steps," Griggs said. "We're just trying that way to help make sure that we eliminate all those points of where people can touch and leave contamination."

Pools that do not have lifeguards will have even more restrictions on the number of people allowed. Griggs said a whole separate issue is homeowners association pools and neighborhood park pools, but he said Columbia doesn't have many of those.

Columbia Parks and Rec playgrounds and splash pads are open, but the Stephens Lake Park's beach will not be open.

"We can't monitor that," Griggs said. "Beach swimming is a whole different animal."

Griggs said that Columbia Parks and Rec is short on lifeguards. He said the Albert-Oakland pool will have lifeguards and will open but the lack of lifeguards could affect whether other pools will reopen.

The county's current COVID-19 plan to reopen reduces limitations for businesses and organizations and reintroduces limited mass gathering, but still requires social distancing in all activities.

The Columbia/Boone County health department stated in its frequently asked questions sheet that orders will be enforced based on routine inspections and following up on complaints.

The FAQ sheet also states that failure to comply with this order is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.

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Amber Tabeling

Amber joined the ABC 17 News team as a multimedia journalist in December 2019. She was a student-athlete at Parkland College and Missouri Valley College. She hails from a small town in Illinois.


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