Rita Rauscher, 46, of Fairmount, wishes she could take her kids to the pool.
She’s glad the city recently opened spraygrounds as a way to provide relief from summer’s heat — and the boredom settling in from COVID-19 restrictions — but she knows Philadelphia’s public pools are something special.
“Usually, [pools are] something that they look forward to, especially kids in the city that don’t have anything else to do,” Rauscher said, as she watched her three children enjoy the sprayground at Herron Playground and Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on Saturday, the first weekend it was open.
Officials shuttered the city’s public pools in May to both help fill a multimillion-dollar funding gap resulting from the coronavirus and keep residents safe from its unrelenting spread. Last year, pools started welcoming swimmers in June and provided a reprieve from sweltering heat for about six weeks. Some private pools have reopened, but are cost prohibitive for many in the city.
“It’s a shame, because the kids have nothing to do,” said Melissa Rogers, 41, of South Philly. “The kids are just in the streets, there’s nothing to do, they get into trouble. But then again, you don’t know with the coronavirus.”
The city’s 91 spraygrounds and spray features opened Monday, welcoming splishing and splashing from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and noon until 5 p.m. on weekends. A map of the locations can be found on the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation website. Anyone going is urged to stay six feet away from non-family members in keeping with social distancing.
At the virtually empty Shissler Recreation Center on Saturday, that was no problem for the children of Karen Alexander, 37, of Fishtown, and Antoinette Kraus, 38, of Norris Square.
“I think people don’t know, right?” Kraus said. “There’s been a lot of confusion about what’s open.”
Temperatures climbed into the 80s, with the air feeling like soup and cotton candy. The heat and humidity might be the only dependable part of this strange summer — and maybe Philadelphians’ desire to head down the Shore.
Perhaps that’s where the sprayground regulars were Saturday, said Alexander.
“We thought it was so strange,” she said, “because nobody was here.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released tips to stay safe at pools and water playgrounds, including proper hand-washing and face masks. Don’t wear coverings while participating in aquatic activities, advises the CDC — it’s hard to breathe through them when wet.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health launched a campaign this past week to promote mandatory mask-wearing. As residents flock to parks, the city has also rolled out a group of “social distancing ambassadors” to encourage adequate spacing between people as well as facial coverings.
Kia Koutsialis, 67, of North Philadelphia, was “delighted” to find out that the sprayground across from her house at Athletic Recreation Center would open while the adjacent pool stayed empty. So was her 7-year-old granddaughter, Aelianna Rose Koutsialis, who shouted and frolicked as buckets of water poured on her head before looming dark clouds gave way to rain.