ELLSWORTH — Like many organizations, the Down East Family YMCA has had a challenging spring due to the novel coronavirus. Fortunately for one of Hancock County’s largest institutions, a restart is on the horizon.
After the unveiling of Governor Janet Mills’ reopening plan last Tuesday, the YMCA is set to resume operations June 1. It won’t be business as usual, per se, but after nearly two (soon to be two and a half) months with the doors closed, the Y team is more than ready to return.
The local YMCA has yet to receive guidelines from the state detailing what must be done before opening its doors in just over three weeks’ time. Yet the organization is already busy doing its own legwork to ensure its ability to practice social distancing and maintain other public health measures once June arrives.
“We’ve kind of been on our own so far in terms of guidelines from the state, but we want to be proactive,” said Fitness Director Robin Clarke. “We want to get people back, but we want to make sure we get them back safely.”
The second phase of Governor Mills’ reopening plan lists “fitness and exercise centers” among the businesses permitted to reopen next month. Deemed non-essential services under both of the Governor’s stay-at-home orders, such establishments have been closed since mid-March.
Over the course of a typical day, Clarke estimates that 800 people come through the doors of the YMCA’s James Russell Wiggins Center in Ellsworth. The building is at its fullest in the afternoon hours as middle and high school students get out of school and adults reach the end of their workdays.
Needless to say, things will be different once the YMCA is able to reopen its doors next month. To adapt, the Wiggins Center is hoping to take advantage of its open gymnasium space for classes and workouts as well as measure and tape out 6-foot spacing à la grocery stores.
“We’re definitely going to be moving a lot of our equipment around, and that includes our bikes and equipment,” said Clarke, who added. “We also don’t think the drinking fountains will be sanitary, so we’re looking at what we can do there.”
Clarke said the YMCA will be transitioning to an app-based sign-in program rather than its traditional front-desk keypad. Y employees are set to return to work May 18 to begin implementing the new changes, though Clarke and her colleagues still have questions they would like answered.
“We’re limited to 50 people in the building at a time, but we’re not yet sure what that looks like,” Clarke said. “Is that number just guests and members? Does it include employees? Will we be able to open the pool? We’d like answers on some of those things.”
Two weeks after the second phase of the state’s reopening process begins, DEFY hopes to open its Camp Discovery. The camp’s scheduled first day, June 15, is a full week earlier than its original target date of June 22.
Camp Director Roman Perez, who lives out at the day camp’s location on Webb Pond in Eastbrook, has been busy cleaning the site and adapting it to CDC guidelines. Campers this year will be provided with masks, and the camp will have numerous hand-sanitizing stations as well as a designated quarantine location.
“Right now, I’m in the phase of restructuring the schedule and going through guidelines and bullet points,” Perez said. “We’re working hard to make sure we meet CDC guidelines, and we’re getting camp ready with the hopes that things go as planned.”
So far, it doesn’t appear as if the pandemic will have a negative impact on attendance come camp season. Perez said 85 campers were signed up as of Tuesday afternoon, and he anticipates that number will rise significantly in the weeks to come.
“There’s as much enthusiasm as ever,” Perez said. “People are excited about this, and we’re committed to making camp a fun time while also making sure it’s a very safe place.”
No one is sure how long protective measures will be in place or how they may change, but YMCA staff say they are committed to the procedures for the near future to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We’re taking a hard look at everything and coming up with the best practices to keep people safe,” Clarke said. “This is the new normal for everyone, but we’re planners, and we’re going to make it work the best we can.”