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Columbia unveils five-phase plan to reopen amenities, ball fields in parks

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Irma Brooks plays tennis at Greenview Park in 2019.

City sports fields and some tennis courts are reopening in Columbia, though there will be restrictions on how they can be used amid continuing concerns about the novel coronavirus.

According to city officials, most tennis courts in Columbia will reopen on May 25, though group lessons are still prohibited.

Assistant City Manager Howard Simons said at a May 19 Council meeting that the courts at the Columbia Tennis Center and Greenview Park — two of the most popular tennis destinations in the city — will remain closed until late June, as they are managed by instructors through the United States Tennis Association.

The city will also reopen athletic fields across its parks system on May 25, but only up to four people will be allowed on a field at a time. No organized teams or pickup games are allowed. City dog parks, skate parks and bicycle pump tracks also are set to open on May 25.

“If you are going to play in our [parks] ... we want to minimize [contact] and practice social distancing if people are going to be out there playing,” Simons says.

The moves are part of the second phase of a five-phase process of reopening city parks facilities that have been shuttered since March because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase of reopening came on May 12, when Council announced that citizens could once again access greenspaces and walking trails in city parks.

According to the city plan, phase three would come on June 8. That’s when another wave of park amenities would be open again, including basketball courts, playgrounds, the golf driving range on Slighs Avenue, restrooms, water fountains, shelters and more. The plan emphasizes that people utilizing those amenities will be doing so “at their own risk.”

“We can’t control when and where things occur, in terms of someone who may contract [COVID-19] from using these amenities,” Simons said. “So, they use these [amenities] at their own risk. We want to make sire we share that.”

Phase four would happen on June 22, with the reopening of indoor city parks facilities, like gyms and wellness centers. Maximum capacity for gyms would be five people per 1,000 square feet. City staff will receive training on sanitizing, disinfecting and social distancing for those facilities. Residents using common areas — like game rooms, craft rooms, reading and sitting areas, or computer rooms — will be asked to maintain social distancing.

The fifth and final phase of the city’s parks plan comes on Aug. 3, when the city will once again allow youth and adult league play and organized games on its fields and courts.

Simons noted the city is canceling its popular summer camps for youth this summer. He also said city pools will remain closed until further notice.

“I know there has been a lot of dialogue around pools,” Simons said. “On the [Department of Health and Environmental Control] website they mention interim guidelines for pools. According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the virus that causes COVID-19 cannot be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. However, and this is key, the opportunity for transmitting the virus does exist in surrounding areas, which underlines our concern.”

City Manager Teresa Wilson says she’s taken note of the public’s desire to resume using the city’s parks amenities. At the same time, she is cognizant of the continuing spread of COVID-19, and notes the public plays a role in precautions.

“We also recognize that, at some point, common sense has to kick in, too, with some of this, with the public and how behaviors are,” Wilson said. “We are trying to slow-walk it, but at the same time recognize that the citizens have to have some personal responsibility, as well.”

As of May 23, nearly 9,900 people across South Carolina had tested positive for COVID-19, with 425 deaths, according to SCDHEC.

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