D.M. leaves parks facilities open despite COVID cases, mayor limits gatherings at public places

Walkers visit city-owned Gray's Lake Park on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Des Moines will keep most of its parks facilities open despite recently confirming two cases of COVID-19 at an east-side adult softball complex and one at a swimming pool, the parks director said. 

Pools, softball fields, shelters and other facilities will remain available despite Mayor Frank Cownie’s proclamation Friday limiting outdoor gatherings on city streets and rights of way to 250 people. Cownie also strongly urged residents and visitors to wear face coverings in public.

Cownie’s amendment to a previous proclamation came after the city announced it was extending the closure of administration buildings until at least Oct. 1 due to the worsening spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Frank Cownie is mayor of Des Moines. (Photo courtesy of city of Des Moines)

City parks and recreation Director Ben Page said hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents rely on the city’s sports fields, shelters, trails and pools for tournaments and informal recreation. 

“We really are doing everything we can” to protect people from exposure to the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, Page said. 

Birdland Pool was closed briefly for cleaning after the city confirmed July 15 a person at the pool for a private swim team function had been infected with the coronavirus while at a private event at the pool.  Birdland has reopened, and Nahas and Teachout pools are open, too. Page said staff shortages kept Ashworth and Northwest pools closed.

Ben Page is Des Moines’ parks and recreation director. (Photo courtesy of city of Des Moines)

The city’s wading and splash pools and the Gray’s Lake Park swimming area also are closed. 

The city has had two confirmed cases involving individuals who were at adult softball games at the Greater Des Moines Softball Complex on three days in July. The cases were confirmed this week and teams were notified. 

Page said the city has aggressive protocols for cleaning, including cleaning softball bats after each use. Dugout benches are wiped down regularly, and spectators and others are encouraged to keep their distance. 

Masks are not required, though the city encourages those not playing the games to wear them. The leagues limit attendance to two spectators per player, and teams are instructed to take players’ temperatures before arriving for games. 

The city has weekend youth baseball tournaments that draw 100 to 150 teams to diamonds across the metro, including the eight at Des Moines’ Cownie Baseball Park on the east side. There have been no reports of COVID cases from those tournaments, or from open swimming, though it’s possible some occurred and the city wasn’t notified, Page said. 

Concession stands remain open, with no self-serve condiments.

Page said Gray’s Lake has been packed since the city reopened parking lots that had been closed when many trail users ignored social distancing guidelines in April. 

Use of the city’s trails has been up 200% this summer, according to Google data, Page said.