Summer is officially here, and with the heat comes the latest part of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan.
Now that the school year is over, children across Haverhill have their pick of outdoor fun for the summer — socially distanced due to COVID-19 rules.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the city has made great strides against the coronavirus. The city's total case count stands at 1,167, as of the Gazette's Tuesday press time. Sixty-one residents have died from the disease, according to city health officials. A week earlier, the city had 1,155 cases and 59 deaths. The week before that, the numbers were 1,123 and 56.
Fiorentini said the decreasing number of new cases is primarily due to social distancing. So while plenty of summer fun is being offered to families, COVID-19 rules must be followed.
Plug Pond beach to open
The Plug Pond Recreational Area, with Haverhill's only public beach, opens for the season on Saturday, pending results of a water quality test to be conducted this week.
An initial test last week showed the water passed health standards, city Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette said.
Ouellette said the pond's recreation area usually opens at the end of the school year, which was Friday of last week, but a shortage of lifeguards delayed the opening until Saturday of this week. He said as many as 10 lifeguards are usually working rotating shifts at the pond, but at this point he only has two lifeguards and needs more. He also has several "park ambassadors" who handle other functions.
Normally, the pond's recreational area allows up to 200 people at a time, but Ouellette said that during this phase of the governor's plan, the crowd must be limited to 75 people. Only Haverhill residents are allowed into the area, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through August. Parking is $2 per day.
A variety of rules will be in place, including visitors remaining socially distant and no games involving contact. Grilling food will not be allowed.
There will be a learning curve, Ouellette said.
"We just don't know how to maintain social distancing in the water," he said. "Invariably some issues are going to crop up, such as people being upset that others aren't practicing social distancing or aren't wearing a face mask. We're not sure how we're going to handle that as we can't possibly watch the water and watch everyone else."
The water park for children at Swasey Field also opens Saturday and will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Staff will be on duty to ensure adults who accompany kids are maintaining social distancing and are wearing masks. Adults are not allowed in the water park but can observe the children while they cool off in the park and play.
"We will have to limit the number of children on the splash pad to six at any given time, however, it will be difficult to control," Ouellette said. "No toys will be allowed on the splash pad."
Parks, athletic facilities in use
Winnekenni Park and Riverside Park are among the open spaces that can be utilized by the public in the governor's latest phase, along with outdoor athletic facilities for youth and adult sports activities.
Programs including sports camps are permitted as long as group size is limited. Programs must separate participants into groups of no more than 12, including coaches and staff, according to the governor's rules.
Although contact sports games and scrimmages are not allowed in city parks at this time, practices are allowed but social distancing must be maintained. This means no baseball, lacrosse or basketball games and no other contact sports, Ouellette said.
The number of spectators is limited and no one can sit on benches.
"You can play tennis and the nets are up at Riverside Park and Haverhill High School and at Winnekenni Park, although you must book your time online at haverhillrec.com," Ouellette said.
Summer camps available
Several programs are also available for local children through the Northshore YMCA, according to Regional Executive Director Tracy Fuller.
Fuller said local young people got into the summer swing Monday of this week as part of the Y's Shoe City Explorers and gymnastics camps. The YMCA's Camp Tricklin' Falls, located in East Kingston, has also opened for the season, Fuller said.
"We know kids are going to want and need fresh air," Fuller said. "We know kids are really ready to have a summer where they can be social and socially distant at the same time."
Adhering to rules set forth by the governor and the state Department of Early Education and Care, the YMCA has social distancing and hygiene practices in place to keep campers, staff members and families healthy and safe, Fuller said.
Each camper's family must submit a daily health form certifying their child has not been exposed to COVID-19, Fuller said. Parents will also be quizzed on symptoms when they drop off and pick up their children, she said, adding that the Y's beginning and end-of-day procedures will be extended by 30 minutes to minimize congestion.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill plans to begin its summer camp programming Monday, July 6, and run it for seven weeks to Aug. 21, Executive Director Javier Bristol said. Signups for those programs can be done by calling 978-374-6171.
Free meals continue
Throughout the summer, the School Department plans to continue its meal distribution service to Haverhill children ages 18 and younger.
Any Haverhill child, regardless of the school they attend, is eligible to receive a bagged meal at one of six distribution sites.
Grab-n-go meals are distributed daily from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hunking School, Consentino School, Nettle School, Whittier Middle School, the YMCA and Haverhill High School. Each child is entitled to one breakfast pack and one lunch pack per day. Additional meals are provided on Friday for the weekend.