Ahwatukee families expecting to swim at Pecos Pool, seniors longing for the return of programs at Pecos Center and anyone looking forward to visiting Ironwood Library are in for a disappointing June.
None of those facilities appear likely to open before early July even as Gov. Doug Ducey has lifted most restrictions on businesses and county and state parks last weekend were bursting with visitors.
After city staff last week asked for direction on when they could reopen pools, libraries, senior centers and other facilities, Mayor Kate Gallego said the city needs more time to make “metric-driven” decisions to protect the public from COVID-19 spread.
Most of the mayor’s colleagues apparently agreed with her position since the discussion ended with no formal action – and little of the guidance city staff said it needed on reopening.
That means that for a substantial part of next month, closures will be in force for restrooms, ramadas, picnic tables, playgrounds, splash pads, outdoor fitness equipment, community centers, basketball and volleyball courts, sports complexes. And reserving facilities remains up in the air.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio of Ahwatukee had urged the opposite.
“I really think we need to start opening things up,” DiCiccio told his colleagues. “I think people are done with this pain. I think that people want this over with they want to go back to normalcy and for us to do that, we’re going to have to show some leadership and open up.
“The whole objective – and I want to make this so incredibly clear because no one is saying it – but the whole reason for closing things down was to allow the medical community to catch up and be prepared,” he continued, adding:
“They’ve done that. No one is saying that this virus is going to go away because it’s not. People are still going to continue to get infected. It is going to happen. It’s a reality.”
But DiCiccio argued, “I think the longer we wait, the longer we drag things out, the harder it’s going to be at the end. I really do believe it’s even going to be more harmful to all of us.”
Stressing he was not minimizing virus-related deaths or cases and that “it’s not a phony disease,” DiCiccio said, “We should be telling people this is going to be here but we also need to start opening up. We can do it in a responsible way.”
“We really need to start going at a little bit faster rate at this point and allow for the sense of normalcy. The opening of the library – that needs to happen. Our parks need to be open. Matter of fact, doctors have said it’s good for people to be outdoors. They need to be able to use the entire park”
Gallego thanked DiCiccio “for speaking about the human impact of this” but then said:
“We are moving towards 100,000 American lives lost and we are well aware that it is our most vulnerable who are most impacted by this. From my perspective, likely our senior centers will need to be the facilities that open last but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep investing in making sure our seniors have healthy food.”
“Arizona has been moving quite quickly and we are ahead of the CDC’s guidelines in areas such as bars. I think it’s important that we do metric-driven decisions in particular. I think looking at the number of COVID-19 cases in our community makes sense.”
Gallego said “Maricopa County is probably the appropriate jurisdiction” for those metrics, given that different parts of the state are showing different levels of infected populations.
“We really ought to lead by understanding public health data and work to protect our community,” she said, adding she was most concerned about the adequacy of hospital beds in Phoenix and the need “to invest in equipment that allows us to provide our city services more safely.”
The discussion by Gallego and DiCiccio followed a presentation by Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., who said the administration had assumed reopening facilities would come in stages – based on five standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those standards include 14 consecutive days of decreasing virus cases, 14 consecutive days of maintained or reduced per capita percentage of positive cases. 14 consecutive days of steady or decreasing ICU beds and hospital admissions and 14 consecutive days of declining virus-caused deaths.
While stating it’s been difficult to get much Phoenix-specific data, Dohoney said his office was able to get data that show “Phoenix stands out” with higher percentages of new positive cases per 100,000 people than in Maricopa County as a whole.
Parks and Recreation Director Inger Erickson said her department needs a 30-day advance notice to open Phoenix’s pools and three weeks advance notice to open summer camps.
Moreover, she said, because the city has not been able to train enough lifeguards, the city will be able to open only 16 of its 29 public pools and that to have a “meaningful season” they need to open no later than July 4.
If and when pools open, they’ll be operating at only 25 percent capacity because of social distancing – requiring the implementation of a reservation system, Erickson said.
Summer camps would operate at 33 percent capacity and also must open by July 6 to be of any value, she said.
Although she did not say what pools could be open by early July, Erickson said six of the 16 would be closed Aug. 2 while the remaining 10 would stay open until Sept. 7.
League play on ballfields also remains uncertain because of limits on gatherings of more than 10 people.
As for the library, pickup service between 8-10 a.m. daily will remain.
Dohoney said the library needs at least a week advance notice to move into the next reopening phase, called “grab and go.” In that phase, he said, “individuals would be able to go into the library, check out some material and then exit.
“They would not be able to roam freely through the whole library – simply to go in and, as the title indicates, grab and go,” he added.
The difference from curbside service would be that all library services would be available.
To open the library entirely, the city would need a three-week notice from Council, but even then, capacity would be limited because of social distancing. It’s unclear when the whole issue of reopening will be taken up again. No session was on Council’s agenda this week.