Conway officials agreed to extend the city’s state of emergency for up to 60 days on Tuesday, but they also outlined plans for a phased reopening of city facilities.
Starting Monday, the city will reopen outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts and dog parks. Those facilities were closed because of the COVID-19 crisis. City leaders also plan to begin issuing yard sale permits on that date.
Depending on the mandates from the governor, a second phase of facilities would reopen June 1, and that would include playgrounds. City officials also discussed a mandatory masking policy, but they ultimately decided that would be too difficult to enforce. They are, however, encouraging residents to wear masks in public spaces.
“There are concerns out there in the community,” city councilman William Goldfinch said. “We’ve got to take this thing seriously, but I don’t want to incite fear. I don’t want to step on people’s rights.”
City officials said the state of emergency would enable them to get some federal reimbursement for the cost of responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The declaration also gives them some flexibility in their response.
As for reopening facilities, city officials said basketball will be limited to small group play and social distancing guidelines should be followed at the dog park. Hand sanitizing stations will be set up at each facility.
City administrator Adam Emrick said he would like to open Conway's recreation center Monday, but the city needs to re-staff the facility and can’t do that by next week. The rec center's reopening would likely happen in the second (June 1) phase. Court proceedings and in-person city council meetings would also resume at that time.
A third phase would include opening city buildings to the public and starting youth sports leagues. There’s no timeframe for this phase yet. City leaders said it depends on when the governor relaxes social distancing guidelines.
Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, who supported requiring residents to wear masks at public facilities, expressed concern about what she’s seen in recent weeks. When she would purchase takeout food or walk into a store, she said, she would be the only person among 20 wearing a mask.
“The tendency of human beings is that if our government says we can go back to something that looks normal, then it must be OK for us to act as if everything is normal again," she said. "I just think that we’ll pay for that over the long run.”