Families in Omaha are likely making outdoor plans for Memorial Day weekend, but they will have to wait one more week to unleash their children on the city’s playgrounds and splash pads.
Mayor Jean Stothert announced at a press conference Friday that the city’s 197 playgrounds will reopen to the public June 1, almost two months after they closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Omaha’s 11 splash pads will open that day, too.
Whether Omaha swimming pools, libraries and community centers will reopen in 2020 has not been decided.
The announcement came a day after Gov. Pete Ricketts issued new health directives that take effect June 1. In part, his orders ease restrictions on libraries, swimming pools, zoos, auditoriums and other venues and events in 89 counties.
Stothert cautioned parents that playground structures won’t be regularly disinfected. That’s because the necessary chemicals are harmful, and kids would need to wait 24 hours before they could safely play.
“So basically, it’s going to be, ‘Play at your own risk,’ ” she said.
Park bathrooms will reopen the same day. Stothert said signs will be posted near the restrooms telling people that they will be cleaned once a day. Portable restrooms that are normally set up at some parks will not appear this year.
The trap and skeet shooting range at Seymour Smith Park will also reopen June 1, as will the 18-hole disc golf course there. The city-owned Koch Family Outdoor Tennis Center at Tranquility Park will also reopen then.
Also on June 1, the city will allow two people to ride in golf carts on city courses. The carts have been limited to one person.
N.P. Dodge Memorial Park reopened Friday, more than a year after closing because of the 2019 flood.
Stothert has floated the idea of not reopening libraries, swimming pools and community centers this year to offset an expected $80 million budget shortfall. That decision may depend on how much money the city receives from the pot of $166 million in federal coronavirus relief money allotted to Douglas County.
The County Board, which will dole out the money, heard requests this week from officials in Omaha and other Douglas County cities. One of Omaha’s biggest asks: funding for its entire police and fire budget for three months, about $57 million.
The city has already taken steps to offset its projected losses, including furloughs, hiring and spending freezes and overtime bans in the Police and Fire Departments. But other cuts are possible, the most extreme of which would be laying off police officers or firefighters, Stothert has said.
In other news, officials on Friday released some early results from an initiative between the Fire Department and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to study the prevalence of the coronavirus among first responders.
Earlier this month, all 650 members of the department could volunteer to be tested for COVID-19 and for the antibodies against the disease.
Of the 60% tested for the disease, only one firefighter who was not showing symptoms tested positive. That person was quarantined and is back at work.
Of the 90% tested for antibodies, about 2% have them — though not all of the results are in, said Dr. Robert Chaplin, the department’s medical director and a pediatric intensive care unit doctor at UNMC.
Chaplin said officials will now further study those firefighters who tested positive for antibodies to see where they may have contracted the coronavirus, if they suspected that they had it and what the results could mean for the broader population.
“One of the questions is: If you’ve had this disease, can you get it again? There have been some new studies coming out showing that it might not be something you can get again,” Chaplin said. “Nobody knows for sure.”