HARWICH —The town's summer recreation programs are being put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recreation Department Director Eric Beebe said the summer playground program and the swimming and tennis programs were being canceled, at least for the beginning of the season. He'll be keeping a close eye on what will be allowed in the third phases of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening of Massachusetts.
“There are no programs at the moment and there is nothing we can do until the opening of phase three,” Beebe said. “It’s hard to plan and we’ll see how phase two goes.”
The guidelines in place do not allow use of communal spaces, so the games and activities rooms in the community center are not not available. Large congregations of kids are also not allowed, so the day camp setting for the playground program does not meet guidelines, he said.
Beebe said the playground program, which runs in two-week segments, provided various activities for kids from 6 to 12 years old, broken into two age groups, with indoor and outdoor activities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There were a lot of arts and crafts, game board activities and gym use inside the community center. The outdoor activities in the fields behind the community center would present social distancing issues, he said.
The community center will only be open for the sale of one- and two-week and non-resident beach stickers from June 22 to July 17.
The very popular learning to swim program held at Long Pond for kids four years old and up and the tennis program at Brooks Park will also not be available. There is usually a lot of one-on-one contact between instructors and kids with those programs, he said.
As the season moves along and conditions improve, Beebe said he is hopeful smaller recreation programs and events can be held as the state moves into phase three, potentially in early August. Soccer games and whiffle ball events may be possible.
Approximately 750 kids participated in the playground program, swimming and tennis over the summer months, Beebe said.
“These programs definitely provide childcare opportunities and I understand the plight of the parents, but we want to do it safely,” Beebe said. “There is one positive thing. These programs run out of a revolving fund so if we are not making money, we are not spending money.”
Much of the recreation department's focus this year will be on the beaches. Beebe said “a ton of lifeguards from last year” are returning. There has been special training related to the implementation of COVID-19 provisions on beaches. A number of the seasonal instructors used for recreation programs have been moved over to serve as beach gatekeepers. In all, Beebe said, the number of seasonal employees in the recreation department was reduced from approximately 60 to 65 to 45.
“I think the beaches are going to give us a run for the money this year, keeping people separated,” Beebe said.