Steelville parks reopen, but with limited access

    Steelville Mayor Michael Keen issued a list of rules for the city parks via the city’s Facebook page on Thursday, May 7. Citing the current COVID-19 pandemic, he said parks would be open but have limited access.

    He noted that some of the determinations had been discussed at the May 4 city council meeting, and he made the remainder of the decisions himself. He said, “It is my job to worry about public safety on city property and I'm doing what I feel is best at this time” because of the ongoing pandemic.
    The mayor’s rules don’t allow more than 10 people at any gathering, require social distancing of six feet, and advise people to wear a mask. No one is allowed to use playground equipment, pavilions, the bandstand (stage), tennis court, or basketball court. The pool will not be open. Restrooms will be closed, and only portable toilets will be available. Walking is allowed in the park and on the city’s trail, but only two people may walk together (observing social distancing) unless they are immediate family.
    City council members had discussed the reopening of the parks at their May 4 meeting. The parks had been completely closed during the stay at home orders in place in the county and state during the month of April.
    Mayor Keen referred to a letter provided by Crawford County Health Department Administrator Honor Evans in reference to reopening parks, summer sports programs and public swimming pools. In her letter, she noted, “While these are not specifically prohibited by the governor of Missouri’s Phase I reopening guidelines, there are several things to consider when making the decision to go forward with such events and activities. A municipality may take additional steps to protect public health as long as they are not less restrictive than the state of Missouri or the county of Crawford.”
    The letter went on to point out that many activities like walking, running, hiking, biking or simply spending time outdoors with family or household members can be done safely and are very important to health and well-being, but added, “During this time, the key to engaging in any activity is to do so safely. During Missouri’s Recovery Phase I, social distancing is still a key mitigation strategy in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
    Evans pointed out the state’s order mandates that people abide by social distancing requirements, including maintaining six feet of space between individuals who are not family members or individuals who have to be closer than six feet to perform their job duties.  
    The letter also noted the general guidelines of the state order say to “avoid socializing in groups that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing…” and, “when in public (parks, outdoor recreation spaces, shopping malls, etc.), individuals should maximize physical distance from others.” In the general guidelines for communities, it says that communities should “limit situations where citizens cannot maintain social distancing.”  
    At the council meeting, Keen referenced the letter along with the state’s order and Governor Mike Parson’s plan to reopen Missouri. Keen stated the parks would open, but playgrounds would remain closed, along with the pool for the current time.
    Alderwoman Sharon Hubbard asked, “Shouldn’t the picnic shelters be taped off because that would be for a large gathering?” and Keen replied, “We can do that.”
    Alderwoman Amanda Sherrill also suggested that the city post some signage around the parks to remind people of the social distancing requirements in place.
    Keen asked that Public Works Director Jason Evans take care of signage and asked for Police Chief Mike Sherman to ensure the playgrounds and pavilions were taped off to keep people out of them.
    Sherrill asked if the city was required to enforce the closure of these areas in order to avoid liability. Keen said as long as the city had it closed, law enforcement could have people leave.
    Parks Committee President Jennifer Hurd asked if the city would allow the ball fields to be open, and Keen replied that was up to the local school district since it is leasing that area of the park. “Mike Whittaker (Steelville Schools superintendent) can make that decision; he’s a smart man,” Keen said.
    In an email to school district patrons on May 6, Whittaker noted the track, softball, and baseball fields will remain closed at the city park through the end of May. At that time, the district will revisit the closure and determine if it will be extended.
    After the council discussion, the mayor had the rules listed above posted on the city Facebook page.
    When asked why he was limiting groups to no more than 10 people when that is no longer part of the state or county orders, he initially replied that it was in information from the governor, then said it was in the order from the Director of Health & Senior Services, however, Three Rivers Publishing has not found that in either the state health department director’s order nor in the governor’s Show-Me Strong Recover Plan: Phase I Guidelines.
    Keen said the tennis court and basketball court “seem to draw a lot of kids and teenagers” so it had been decided to close them along with the playground equipment, pavilions, and stage. He said that leaves only the walking trail open, and that is limited to groups of two because of limited space, unless it is a family walking together. “All, however, should be using the six-foot distance rule,” he stated.
    When asked about closing the restrooms but providing portable toilets, he explained, “As for the restrooms—due to not having the ability for someone to go disinfect them three or four times a day—I ordered them to remain closed. The porta-potties usually have hand sanitizer in them for people to use once they are done.”

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