WESTERLY — The cost associated with following state and federal guidelines for cleaning playgrounds to protect children and their families from contracting COVID-19 is forcing the continued closure of playgrounds, town officials said.
In recent weeks, members of the Town Council have asked Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Chief of Police Shawn Lacey whether playgrounds could be reopened. On Monday, Rooney and Julia Beardsley, the town's interim Recreation Department director, discussed the decision to keep the playgrounds closed.
The two officials said the playgrounds will remain closed for the time being, but acknowledged residents' frustration and said one of the facilities might open in the future.
"We have had a request to open smaller playgrounds. I think we're getting close," Beardsley said.
Beardsley, who oversaw operations at Westerly Town Beach and Wuskenau Beach this summer, said she supported the decision to keep the playgrounds closed.
"It's a tough puzzle to solve," she said.
The cleaning protocol at the beaches included a detailed cleaning of the restrooms three times per day throughout the summer. "It was hard to keep up with," Beardsely said.
Cleaning the playgrounds is especially important because in many cases, Beardsley said, children go to playgrounds with their grandparents. The virus is particularly dangerous for senior citizens and those with other medical conditions.
According to Rooney, the town cannot open the playgrounds without first submitting a cleaning plan to the state.
"You have to open with a cleaning program and disinfect throughout the day even though the sun is the greatest disinfectant. I know it sounds like it defies common sense ... that's the governor's direction," Rooney said.
Town departments are not staffed at levels that would allow for opening playgrounds, Rooney said. When reliance on volunteer organizations was suggested, Rooney said the town would be expected to complete the cleaning regimen if a volunteer was unavailable.
Beardsley said she believes daily power washing would be required "if you want to do it correctly. Plenty of towns are not doing it correctly. ... I'm not sure how they are making it."