Chandler starts reopening public facilities The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler starts reopening public facilities

Chandler starts reopening public facilities
City News
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

The city of Chandler has begun implementing a three-phased process for opening up public facilities that had been closed due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the city announced it was advancing through Phase Two of its reopening plan, which will allow residents to start utilizing more facilities that have been closed for several weeks in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Recreation centers and the Chandler Museum will reopen on Monday, May 18, but visitors must still follow social-distancing guidelines.

Playgrounds, basketball courts and splash pads reopened on May 16. Swimming pools will allow limited activities on May 18 before reopening for public swimming on May 23.

These latest developments follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to let his stay-at-home executive order expire – prompting Chandler to accelerate its reopening process.

Ducey announced that pools, spas gyms and fitness centers that are public or in hotels and apartments will also be allowed to open immediately.

Beginning May 16, major league teams were welcome to start playing their games here.

But for the moment, the stadiums and arenas will have only the players and staff. No spectators will be allowed, though Ducey said he believes the conditions of the pandemic in Arizona actually are safe enough here to permit people in the stands.

Ducey cited a decline in the percentage of tests for the virus coming back positive. At one point the rate was in the 10 percent range; the most recent figures are at 5 percent.

The initial tests performed for months in Arizona had been only of those who showed symptoms of COVID-19. That was done at least in part because of limited testing supplies.

In the past few weeks, however, state Health Director Cara Christ has allowed testing of anyone who thinks they may have been exposed. That increases the pool of those tested to include more who are less likely to have the virus.

Churches were never shut down by the state but the vast number decided to close.

We know much more,’’ Ducey said. “We know where the vulnerable populations are.’’

That category includes those who are 65 and older and with underlying health conditions. Ducey said that’s why there will be more testing of both residents as well as staff at nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities.

And the governor said he is not ready to lift his prohibition against outside visitors to residents living there.

Each City of Chandler department had previously determined how it would gradually return to normal operations as the number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona started to level off and public health officials determined it was safe for residents to freely move about.

On the same day Chandler announced it was reopening several more facilities, the city’s ZIP codes showed 429 cases of the COVID-19 virus. A month earlier, Chandler had 149 cases.

City officials said Chandler was approaching reopening cautiously and encouraged residents to continue practicing good hygiene practices as the city began to return to some level of normalcy.

“We look forward to seeing a new breath of fresh air coming through Chandler as standards are relaxed,” Mayor Kevin Hartke said.

Each phase of City Manager Marsha Reed’s three-tiered plan to resume public services is projected to last a couple weeks, depending on how Arizona meets benchmarks for virus cases.

Staff have been preparing this plan throughout the statewide shutdown, she added, and it may change or be modified as new developments occur.

“It’s a lot harder to start up than it is to shut down,” Reed said.

Several elements of the plan involve sanitizing public places and installing new infrastructure that would help create physical barriers between city employees and residents.

Phase One involves installing plexiglass and sneeze guards inside certain city buildings, opening library lobbies for picking up new materials, and providing protective gear for recreation staff.

Reed disclosed that Chandler may not have enough masks and gloves to fully stock each of the city’s departments, so it’s likely that public safety and customer service personnel will be prioritized first in receiving protective gear.

“We do not have a supply chain to provide everyone in the city with a mask,” Reed recently told the Chandler City Council.

The city had already begun opening some park amenities in advance of initiating Phase One of the reopening plan.

Skate parks, tennis courts, and dog parks were all reopened by early May in order to provide some recreation opportunities for residents.

As the reopening process continues, the city plans to resume services that had been halted or scaled back during the pandemic.

Some departments had chosen to delay conducting building inspections or code enforcement the last few weeks in order to not burden residents and businesses.

Leah Powell, the city’s director of Neighborhood Resources, said regular code enforcement would likely resume during Phase Two of the plan and staff plans to mail violation notices rather than leave a pamphlet on the resident’s door.

“People are nervous about door hangers — not knowing how long a virus possibly could live on paper,” Powell said.

The city likely wouldn’t resume code enforcement of local businesses until Phase Three, Powell added, so as to limit the stress felt by business owners during the pandemic.   

Powell’s department additionally maintains all of Chandler’s public housing units and is preparing to take extra precautions for when staff have to conduct inspections and maintenance checks.

Every employee will be instructed to wear masks and gloves during every visit to a housing unit, Powell said, and will be extra careful when dealing with the unit’s elderly residents.

“We want to have at least some level of comfort that we’re practicing everything we possibly can to keep our seniors safe,” Powell added.

The City Clerk’s Office would begin accepting a limited number of applications for new passports in Phase Two before opening up the service fully during Phase Three.

The city’s libraries would start offering limited access to its public computers in Phase Two and then all sections of the libraries will be open by Phase Three.

The Chandler Center for the Arts may resume hosting small events in Phase Two and begin installing standalone hand-sanitizer stations around the entertainment venue.

The City Council plans to allow up to 50 people to attend its public meetings in-person by May 28.

During the citywide shutdown, the public was only able to observe the council’s meetings by remotely watching a video recording of the event.

One of the biggest challenges of implementing this reopening plan will be logistics, said Chandler Fire Chief Tom Dwiggins, because the city will have to figure out how to deliver all the needs of its departments in the coming weeks.

This plan is more of a “living document,” Dwiggins added, that’s subject to change as more information and data is collected.

“We’re trying to think long-term,” the chief said. “Not just three phases, but where are we in the fall.”

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