June 15, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

City of Gardner backs off pool COVID restrictions

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On Monday, Gardner resident Danedri Herbert, took to the podium to blast the Gardner City Council for a decision to restrict attendance at the city pool this summer.

“I watched the last city council meeting with grave disgust when I saw the table scraps that the council and the city plan to throw to Gardner’s children this summer,” Herbert said. 

Herbert, who writes for the Sentinel, is — as noted — a resident and taxpayer of Gardner, and speaking only as a community member, was reacting to a decision two weeks ago to create three, two-hour, sessions per day, for which community members would have to sign up for in advance, and would allow only 500 people to be in the aquatic center at a time.

On May 3, Jason Bruce, head of Gardner Parks and Recreation also said there would be no deck chairs — people would be required to bring their own seating — and concessions would be limited.

Herbert took issue with pretty much all of those restrictions in her comments at the May 17 meeting.

Noting that it’s been clear for over a year that “fomites” — furniture and other objects — were not spreaders of COVID as had first been feared, closing the pool every two hours for 30 minutes to clean was simply unnecessary.

“There’s no need to close the pool every two hours in order to sanitize everything and removing the deck chairs is pure theatre,” she said, noting the Johnson County Health Department, CDC, and WHO are quickly removing capacity limits on outdoor venues.

She also noted that fears of mass gathering transmission have been largely overblown.

“There’s exactly one study in the entire world, reported by the New York Times last week,” she said. “That sole study revealed less than a handful of transmission cases between construction workers in Singapore. So it appears outdoor transmission is an anomaly.”

Indeed the NYT report noted serious concerns about the methodology of that study.

Herbert also pointed out that legal worries are not an issue either, as Kansas has limited liability protection for businesses — public or private — for COVID transmission, so a lawsuit should someone catch the disease is nearly impossible.

More to the point, Herbert said, poor children in the Kansas City suburb were likely to be the most impacted.

“Poor kids are hurt the most by this ridiculous political theatre,” Herbert said. “They don’t have backyard pools, they don’t have parents that can take them to the downtown country club. Their parents work during the day so they can’t take them to the next town where the pools are open with more reasonable restrictions … and they likely don’t live in subdivisions with HOAs (homeowners associations) with swimming pools.”

Addressing the council directly Herbert finished with “No one elected you to be a rubber stamp for bad decisions by bureaucrats. Open the pool.”

City Administrator Jim Pruetting said in a lengthy discussion later in the meeting, that the city was thrown a “curveball” a few days earlier when guidance changed to allow outdoor activities.

However, just three days before the initial, restrictive, pool plan was discussed, the Johnson County Commission had lifted almost all COVID-related restrictions changing them to “recommendations,” rather than orders.

Despite this — and the link to the county commission’s own resolution on the City of Gardner website — Bruce said hadn’t received anything from Johnson County, and CDC hadn’t updated pool opening guidance since February.

After further discussion, largely centering around staffing issues — and attempts to paint the earlier restrictions as merely related to staffing — the council decided to open the pool fully without restriction for the summer of 2021.

The Gardner Aquatic Center will open at noon, June 5, and be open daily, Monday – Sunday, June 5 – August 6.

Beginning August 7, the aquatic center is open only on Saturdays & Sundays.

The Sentinel reached out to Bruce for comment, but as of publication time, had not received a return call.

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