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STEPHEN HEMELT — Playground frustration is latest symptom of COVID-19 fatigue

A concerned Nederland resident voiced a basic question to city council members recently. One shared by many in her community.

When will city parks be opened to their full capabilities, including playground equipment.

“I do not want to take my child to a Beaumont playground,” the resident shared during this week’s Zoom meeting. “I moved to Nederland so I don’t have to go to Beaumont. I think at this point common sense should make an appearance. Nothing magical happens in 10 days.

“How many protestors do I need to take to the park to open the Nederland playground?”

The frustration was obvious, but so was the concern.

“Regular” life with COVID-19 is a challenging process.

Residents want to return to normal and use the amenities their tax dollars fund. Elected leaders want to respond to the requests of their constituency, and municipal administrators want to keep everyone as safe as possible while maintaining city business.

What happens when this all comes into conflict?

Mayor Don Albanese said Nederland is strictly following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and remains in communication with Port Neches and Groves about opening parks across Mid-County at one time.

“I don’t know exactly when the city managers of Groves and Port Neches are going to reopen theirs, but when they do we are all going to reopen them at the same time,” Albanese said this week.

“We are doing this strictly for the protection of our kids and the people of Nederland. This has been a heck of a thing for everybody. We’ve all had to give a little bit. I can guarantee you as soon as we feel it is safe to open we will.”

Nederland City Manager Chris Duque said the city is waiting on more guidance from the state and Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

“If tomorrow, for example, the governor said municipalities or whatever entity that operates a playground, in order to safely reopen it, you would have to do A, B and C. If we can do A, B and C, we would go ahead and move forward with opening that,” Duque stresses. “That is the way the city council understands it. Right now we don’t have the guidance.”

According to Duque, a majority of the city’s park benches, small picnic areas and small tables have reopened. The larger pavilions are closed, but city leaders are looking at taking the orange fence off of those pavilions and allowing people to utilize them again by next week.

The one issue that seems most central are the playground structures and other features at Doornbos Park, including exercise features, swing sets and closed off playground equipment.

“What we’ve taken from the guidelines that are related to playgrounds, such as childcare guidelines and amusement parks, they all direct those operators that you need to be cleaning and disinfecting those touch points on a regular basis,” Duque said. “That is how those private businesses are opening up. We don’t have the staff or materials to continue that.”

That leaves Nederland residents and so many others across Southeast Texas in a state of frustration purgatory. With COVID-19 cases seemingly rising in the region, it’s tough not to think we’re closer to the beginning then the end.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at 409-721-2445 or stephen.hemelt@panews.com.