Will Phoenix Open Libraries, Pools And Parks This Summer?

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 6:32am
Updated: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 6:54am

Aya Park playground
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Playground at Aya Park in Phoenix.

Some cities across the Valley are reopening their public facilities, but not Arizona’s largest. 

Phoenix leaders are looking for more information before they decide whether to reopen libraries and recreation centers. During Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council looked at proposed metrics that could lead to a phased reopening. They included:

  • 14 consecutive days of decreasing positive cases of COVID. 
  • 14 consecutive days of maintained or reduced per capita percentage of positive tests.
  • 14 consecutive days where the percentage of ICU beds was maintained or decreased.
  • 14 consecutive days where hospital admissions for COVID like symptoms was flat or decreased.
  • 14 consecutive days of declining death occurrences.

Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney presented data from May 6 through May 18 which did not meet the metrics. Councilman Sal Diciccio wants libraries and parks to reopen. He said people want a return to normalcy.

→ A Guide To Where Phoenix-Area Cities Are On Opening Parks, Pools And Other Public Amenities

“The whole reason for closing things down was to allow the medical community to catch up and be prepared,” he said. “They’ve done that.”

DiCiccio acknowledged COVID-19 is not going away and, with a vaccine not likely before next year, he said Phoenix needs to show leadership by reopening in a responsible way.

Parks and Recreation Director Inger Erickson Department said she needs 30 days notice to open 16 public pools at reduced capacity and 21 days to open summer camps with social distancing. 

“There would be a real reduction in the amount of lessons as well as open swim because the capacity of the pool would be limited,” she said. “For example, if a pool last year had the capacity for 450 but you had to keep a six foot distance from people this year it might only allow you to have 116 people at a time in the pool and so we’d have to have reservation of times to be able to accommodate that.”

Offering summer camps for kids at a reduced capacity would require 21 days notice, Erickson said. Councilwoman Laura Pastor requested data for COVID-19 cases involving children and wondered about liability if the city opened facilities for recreation programs. 

Pastor also raised concerns about expanding services at Phoenix Public Library. On May 18, Phoenix launched curbside pickup service from 8 to 10 a.m. During Tuesday’s meeting, staff said library locations could begin offering grab-and-go service with seven days notice.

books phoenix library
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Burton Barr Library in Phoenix.

Rita Hamilton, city librarian, described grab-and-go: “We are envisioning not only being able to pick up items that have been placed on hold, but we would arrange some book carts along the path, the socially distant path to the service desk, where people could pick up other items like DVDs, children’s books and other popular materials and also check those out.”

Pastor said she’s hearing from some staff who are “having issues with the ‘Grab and Go’ because they feel like it increases exposure”.

Councilmember Carlos Garcia said his district, which includes parts of east Phoenix, downtown, south Phoenix and Laveen, has the zip codes with the highest rate of infection. He opposes reopening recreational facilities.

“I don’t think that it makes sense to open pools or other places that would put folks at risk. I think reopening before we’re ready means accepting being complicit in preventable deaths, specifically complicit in the preventable death of black, brown and indigenous communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 due to the longstanding and still continuing disparities on access to healthcare and so on.”

The council is expected to meet early next month to review data and decide whether to offer limited summer activities.