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Pines recreation reopening timeline remains unknown

By Greg Ellison

(May 21, 2020) Despite Gov. Larry Hogan easing Maryland into the first phase of recovery from the covid-19 health safety restrictions last week, the picture remains hazy for playgrounds and pool facilities in Ocean Pines to resume activities.

Speaking on Tuesday, Recreation and Parks Manager Debbie Donahue said in addition to consulting with General Manager John Viola this week, a meeting is scheduled on Thursday with the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association.

“Mr. Viola does not make the decisions alone,” she said. “It is a joint effort of everyone that is involved with as much background information … to do the right thing for everybody.”

Donahue said after the flood of visitors to Ocean City last weekend following the lifting of short-term rental restrictions, numerous residents have questioned when playgrounds and parks would be reopened in Ocean Pines.

“That’s Ocean City [and] they allowed that to happen,” she said. “We are taking the precautions that we need to take to keep everybody safe.”

While appreciative that parents are challenged to find activities for children with pent-up energy, Donahue noted the importance of adhering to pandemic-related health regulations since the majority of Pines residents are seniors.

“I understand that you have a child and you want to get back out there and play with them,” she said. “That playground is a giant neon sign.”

Precise timing and procedures adopted to reopen playgrounds, however, remain undefined, with Donahue pointing out that current state guidelines still limit public gatherings to 10 people.

“I can not regulate seven playgrounds with 10 people at a time,” she said. “Playgrounds may be in the third phase … depending on what [Hogan] decides are the numbers.”

Donahue also envisions limiting exposure to contaminated surfaces on swings and slides would be problematic.

“As soon as they touch the first thing, it’s contaminated so then I’ve got to clean it,” she said. “It’s not an easy decision [but] nothing right now is an easy decision.”

Director of Amenities and Operational Logistics Colby Phillips said comparable challenges are involved with resuming affairs at the pool facilities.

“Our hope is to be able to start out with classes for adults and children, as well as lap swimming, following the social distancing guidelines and maximum number of occupants allowed,” she said. “The [Worcester County] Health Department is keeping us closely informed, and as we find out more information we will share with the community.”

Phillip said the aquatics team is working with health department officials and regional pool operators to develop reopening scenarios.

“Safety is our number one concern at the pools always, and should we be able to open, in any type of capacity, we will follow strict guidelines on sanitizing, as well as other processes put in place,” she said.

Head-count restrictions on public gatherings have also clouded the outlook to hold larger events staged in Ocean Pines parks and facilities, such as the inaugural Celtic Fest planned for this summer.

“It’s such a big event we were talking about moving it to September [but] I’m not so sure [that] might be too early,” she said. “The problem is not knowing when they’re going to lift the numbers.”

For now, Donahue said the Celtic Fest and other community gatherings remain in a holding pattern.

“We can’t book things for that big of an event and then turn around and say, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to be able to do it now,’” she said.

Donahue envisions larger gatherings being among the last restrictions lifted in Maryland.

“It all depends on when [Hogan] lifts the numbers because that’s a huge capacity,” she said. “They had 5,000 people in a weekend when it was held at Furnace Town.”

Donahue said the community would be updated as the reopening picture comes into focus.

“Everything that we do right now lands in the hands of the governor and government to what we can do and how many people we can have at a time,” she said. “I’m doing the best I can to make the right decisions for Ocean Pines.”