Schenectady

Few immediate options for relief from heat amid COVID-19 in Schenectady; Pools unlikely to open for summer

Unlikely city pools will open this summer
The fountain in Schenectady’s Jerry Burrell Park remains closed in the midst of a heat wave Wednesday
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The fountain in Schenectady’s Jerry Burrell Park remains closed in the midst of a heat wave Wednesday

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The city is baking.

Temperatures reached the high-80s on Wednesday for the second straight day, an unseasonal blast of hot air for May. 

But amid the mini-heatwave, the city says it’s looking increasingly unlikely city-run pools will open this year. 

“My understanding right now is we can’t,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy, who also expressed a dim outlook over opening splash pads at Tribute and Woodlawn parks. 

“We’re still looking at guidance coming out of the CDC and ensuring people are safe and healthy in these environments,” McCarthy said. “There are elements of risk we’re looking at trying to avoid.”

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There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through water, according to the CDC, which also states chlorinated water kills the virus.

At the same time, pools are congregate settings, and the state has put a kibosh on their reopening, the mayor said.

“Right now I’m being told no,” he said.

State officials didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday asking about latest guidance regarding municipal pools. 

The city doesn’t typically open its pools until late June. But McCarthy also pointed at possible staffing issues with lifeguards and financial concerns as the city stares down a budgetary shortfall of at least $11.6 million.

Chemicals, equipment and repairs alone typically cost between $240,000 and $260,000 annually, the mayor said.

“We’re still reviewing it, but I don’t have contingency plans,” McCarthy said.

A cruise around the city on Wednesday revealed people attempting to seek relief the best they could, from backyard hoses to kiddie pools.

Delvern Cooper said he’d adapt by taking a decidedly retro approach to stay cool, using squirt guns and water balloons to promote a socially-distant way of staying cool.

“We’re going to take it back to the early-1990s,” said Cooper, who runs a gang intervention program and was handing out masks to patrons outside of Family Dollar on Crane Street.

County Manager Rory Fluman said Proctors CEO Philip Morris pitched the idea of using the temporarily shuttered downtown facility as a cooling station.

Fluman decided it was unfeasible because it creates an opportunity for congregate groups. 

“It was a wonderful offer but we both know that it would be an opportunity to mass gather,” Fluman said.

The county’s library system, which has historically served as cooling stations, remain closed.

But officials said the library would offer “some gradual curbside services and very limited hours at some locations” within the next month.

Beaches, campgrounds and RV parks are open, but those options may be out of reach for city residents without transportation or financial resources. 

“People with more means have more options, but it’s always been like that,” said Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association President Pat Smith.

As the pandemic drags into summer, Smith hoped landlords would provide sprinklers and hoses to their tenants in order to provide a small degree of relief. 

Smith urged the neighborhood to be respectful and take a breather if tensions flare in confined households, particularly those without air-conditioning. 

“We have to make do with what we have,” Smith said.


Non-profits have flagged sub-standard housing as one of the city’s biggest issues. 

And the relationship between warm weather and crime is particularly pronounced in poorer neighborhoods and in those with older housing, law enforcement officials say.

Researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed crime reports, arrest counts and service call records from the Los Angeles Police Department and found days with highs topping 85 degrees led to a 2.2 percent rise in general crime and an average of 5.7 percent increase in violent crime.

The relationship is widened in neighborhoods with a greater share of housing stock built prior to 1949, or those less likely to be outfitted with air-conditioning, the New York Post reported.

Fifty-eight percent of the city’s housing stock was constructed prior to 1940, according to a 2018 report by Schenectady County Action Program (SCAP).

It’s unclear how many of those units have air-conditioning. 

“We are not aware of any studies involving the availability of [air-conditioning] to county residents,” said SCAP spokesperson Matt Stankus.

As temperatures climb, the Capital Region has incurred a spate of gun violence, including two homicides within a four-day stretch last week in Schenectady.

City police said the correlation between shootings and higher temperatures isn’t something they can quantify, and declined to speculate on what impact closed pools may have on public safety this summer. 

But warm weather does draw people outside and large groups and loud music can generate police calls.

“Calls for service tend to increase as weather becomes nicer,” said Sgt. Matt Dearing. 

City Councilman John Polimeni acknowledged a recent spike of quality-of-life issues on Hulett Street and Grant Avenue in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

“We just want to remind everyone fireworks are illegal in New York state,” Polimeni said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. 

Polimeni also alluded to emerging issues at West Alley, a thoroughfare popular with high school students and the site of a rash of nuisance fires last fall.

The city runs its four pools in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, which said the prognosis for summer programming remains hazy.

“We are still awaiting guidance from government officials as to what we will be allowed to offer to children and teens this summer,” said Executive Director Shane Bargy. “Normally our summer camps are filling up by this time, but everything is on hold until we have some parameters to follow.”

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The youth organization, however, does have contingency plans ready for everything from a full summer season, to one with strict occupancy requirements to having to go “fully virtual,” said Bargy, who noted the programs serve as child care for parents going back to work.

“We consider these programs essential for this reason,” he said.

Fluman recommended those seeking to beat the heat to visit the county-owned nature preserves in Glenville and Rotterdam, he said, while outdoor hiking and tennis are approved low-risk activities. 

County parks are open, said Fluman, who suggested taking walks in the early morning or evening once peak heat subsides. 

Ramesh Doodnauth gazed down Crane Street as temperatures sizzled and the sun threatened to incinerate the racks of plants in front of his grocery store.

Options for cooling off are scant in the inner-city, he said, and people can’t afford to install backyard pools. 

“People are going to start opening the hydrants,” Doodnauth said. “There’s going to be water all over the place.”

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