HARWICH — Residents are once again trickling into the community center as the doors closed by the COVID-19 pandemic in March are beginning to open for limited group activities.
Community Center Director Carolyn Carey said small groups of no more than 10 people are being allowed to use the activity rooms, and groups of up to 25 are using the multi-purpose room. The center's hours are limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and groups that previously used the community center in the evening are now being encouraged to sign up for daytime activities.
“The groups and organizations have been great,” Carey said. “We started back in July and every month we are getting more and more activities.”
Carey asked selectmen last week to open the fitness center, recommending a change to the annual fee from $150 to $15 a month for 10 months. She said she does not want to change the overall cost, but would prefer the short-term payment on a monthly basis in case there is a need to shut down once again. The short-term payment would avoid returning fees to participants if there is a closure.
The plan was to open the fitness center on Sept. 14, but selectmen said a public hearing will be needed to alter the payment schedule. The board has scheduled the hearing for Monday, Sept. 28.
Some of the equipment has been moved out of the weight room and placed in one of the other activity rooms so people can spread out while exercising. There will be a cap of six people in the weight room at one time. Arrows on the floor direct movement within the rooms.
There will be slots for six people to sign up in advance for 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., with a half hour of equipment cleaning before six more people would have access from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Two more time slows would be available, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a half hour cleaning in between.
There are contact tracing sign-in sheets for the use of the entire facilities, Carey said. Health Director Meggan Eldredge has come in and checked every room to ensure social distancing and that all the other safety guidelines can be accommodated.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it safely,” Carey said. “We feel we’re really working hard to get as many people as we can into the building while maintaining social distancing.”
The recreation department is also opening up programs at the center. The senior basketball group is coming back to the gymnasium, though the group will not be allowed to play games, only work on drills, Carey said. Effort to reach Recreation Director Eric Beebe for comments on the recreation department’s plans for more active use of the center were unsuccessful.
Council On Aging Director Emily Mitchell said her department’s intention is to move more slowly in opening to the public because seniors are a high-risk group. Priorities are the lunch distribution program and senior transportation. Currently the COA is providing 70 meals a day and using the vans for senior transportation to grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, the post office and essential medical appointments. The vans are limited to two seniors at a time.
The COA is slowly bringing back specialists, such as elder law advisers, podiatry and town nurse wellness checks on a one-on-one basis. The agency is also partnering with census workers because the response rates from seniors has been low, Mitchell said.
“We’re not looking to bring any small or large groups back at this time,” she said. “We’re exercising safety and core needs.”
A number of organizations have returned to the activity rooms, Carey said, including the Stitchers group, the Garden Club of Harwich, a wellness group and yoga classes.
“We’re excited to see people back and recreating how to use the community center. Someone commented the other day about how these groups haven’t gotten together. The community center brings them together. It shows why we built this building,” Carey said.