With restrictions lifting, pools are opening in Massachusetts

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Karen O’Connell is about to put the Dedham area on blast and let people know that the pools are open for the summer.

“Because we were closed for so long, a lot of people started swimming other places,” said O’Connell.” I think I’m just going to send out another memo saying that we are fully open like, ‘Love to see you back’.”

On May 29, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order ending the Massachusetts State of Emergency. This order rescinded most of the COVID-19 restrictions, including limitations placed on businesses. Bakers’ announcement turned out to be extremely helpful for the many pools, membership or not, in the state. 

One place that this announcement ended up helping was the Dedham Recreation Department, which opened up just after the announcement was made. Karen O’Connell, the aquatics director at Dedham, said reopening has been easy since they don’t have to worry about restrictions. 

“Reopening has actually been pretty awesome,” said O’Connell. “We really don’t have any restrictions anymore. Right now we’re not having a reservation, people can come in and out in the locker room. We advise if you’re not vaccinated to wear masks but it’s kind of back to normal.”

Despite the easy reopening of the pool, there is still one problem that they are working to fix. Even though this pool is open to the public, no membership required, O’Connell said she has noticed that not many people are coming back. 

Dedham Recreation isn’t the only place with the problem of getting people to return, the Malden YMCA is also having trouble, although its issue isn’t members but staff. 

“Truthfully, during COVID, the majority of members that we have were appreciative,” said RoseMarie Anastasiades, the aquatics director at the Malden YMCA. “In terms of people coming back once Gov. Baker opened up, we have seen an increase but not an overwhelming amount. It’s kind of unfortunate because some members that just came back are demanding.”

The Malden YMCA, which has a general membership, has been open since July 13 of last year, so this meant it has had to follow restrictions. These restrictions included reservations for lap time, having the changing rooms closed, one way in and one way out, and cleaning everything constantly. Even after restrictions were lifted, this YMCA didn’t totally get rid of them, it just reduced them and let more people in. 

“There’s a pressure to get back to normal and need for more members,” said Anastasiades. “Upper management suggests getting rid of the reservations to allow more people in, even though the members love it.”

When COVID-19 hit, the YMCA, like many other exercise facilities else, had to let go of most of its staff, but even now with restrictions lifted, they are still having trouble getting their staff back. Anastasiades said she went from having over 80 employees to just 20.

“When COVID hit, lifeguard certifications were expiring,” said Anastasiades. “Over 20 people’s certifications expired, I only asked 10 to come back to take the class but only eight showed up. Lifeguards have to practice but because of covid, I wasn’t able to train them the way I did before. Without pools, people’s skills fell apart.”

Anastasiades also said she believes employees are not coming back because of the unemployment benefits. 

“Unemployment benefits were so great for the people who expired,” Anastasiades said. “They were collecting unemployment even though they had no intention to come back and people just aren’t applying for the job.”

For the employees that do come back, the YMCA is trying to encourage them to receive the vaccine.

“We got grant money, so any employee that’s vaccinated will show HR and get a $50 gift card. It was an incentive,” Anastasiades explained. “Although I don’t really think it worked, people were getting vaccinated anyways. The majority of the staff were already vaccinated before the gift card incentive.”

Despite all of the problems she is facing, Anastasiades is trying to remain positive saying that even though the staff is really small, “we all work well together.”

One place that seems to be doing really well is Burlington Country Club, which opened up the same weekend Baker made his announcement. Josh Woodbury, the swim team director of BCC, said there have been no problems with the reopening. 

“Reopening was smooth,” said Woodbury. “There wasn’t a lot of new hires we had to do because a lot of people came back this year. It helped that the day we opened all of the restrictions were lifted, so that made it easier to just open normal.”

The only sort of COVID-19 protocol that it has is signage hanging up suggesting that if you’re not vaccinated to wear masks in the buildings otherwise there’s no mask requirement when you’re outside.

Burlington has had no problem with getting its members to come back. Despite the country club coming with the high costs of private club membership, Woodbury said that they even added more families this year.

“We filled up pretty quickly,” said Woodbury. “We had a number of members defer last year and then all of them came back. We have about 50 new families this year and we have a waitlist of about 70 families too.”