Council asked to reopen city pools

Last week, the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board sent a letter requesting a plan to safely reopen facilities and pools. City Manager Chip Boyles gave an update.

“Parks and Recreation has a schedule and a plan for beginning to open up facilities and activities for the summer,” Boyles said. “Baseball fields are already receiving some league play and with two weekends of activity we are reporting 100 percent compliance review for the safety measures by both among the participants, the players and spectators.” 

Other facilities will open on a staggered schedule to accommodate the need to hire staff to run them. These include outdoor pools.

“Washington Park is the first to be scheduled with a proposed opening date of May 29,” Boyles said. ”What we can’t begin to open until the state regulations change are the aquatic center at Onesty and the water spray grounds at our parks. Those are because of the phase that we’re in with the state.” 

That could change if there is further loosening of the state restrictions. 

Mayor Walker said that anyone hired to staff facilities must receive a vaccine and get health benefits given the risks involved. 

“And so that should be a top priority just as we are phasing in the operations part of it, the people who are running those operations, we need to make sure that they are safe,” Walker said. 

Boyles said he heard that message loud and clear.

At the public comment period, several speakers asked for the pools to open faster. Beth Carta has swum laps in city indoor pools for decades.

“And as a nurse, I’m well-versed in the importance of COVID precautions and airborne precautions,” Carta said. “I also know we need a balance. At this point of the pandemic, it’s very important to have accessible and affordable community health options. People need access to exercise to stay healthy and improve immunity.” 

Carta said Governor Ralph Northam has loosened restrictions for indoor pools to open, and those run by the YMCA and ACAC are already in operation. However, those facilities are more expensive than those run by the city parks and rec department. 

Walker, who formerly worked at the Smith Aquatic Center, said the pandemic is not over and there are concerns about increased community spread through the UK and South African variants. 

“What I’m hearing every speaker fail to understand…is that it takes bodies to run these programs so people in jobs and those people have been fired from their jobs and I don’t think it will be an issue rehiring people because they need their jobs but we need to make sure that safety is a first priority especially for staff,” Walker said. 

I took the opportunity to relay the question to officials at the UVA Health System at their briefing on Friday, March 19. Dr. Costi Sifri is the director of hospital epidemiology for the system. He said planning for a gradual opening is okay, as long as the most vulnerable are being vaccinated and as long as mitigation measures like masking are still in place. He said the variants are a wild card. 

“Really what we’ll need to do is just monitor and see what’s happening with case rates and what proportion of those cases are due to the variants,” Dr. Sifri said. “That remains a bit unknown right now. Those efforts to understand that are ramping up. I think we’ll learn more in the upcoming weeks.” 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 21, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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