Howell officials reopen parks after shutdown in wake of coronavirus spike

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HOWELL – All of the parks in Howell that are operated by the municipality have been reopened and are permitted to be used at full capacity. The parks and playground equipment reopened on Oct. 15 after having been closed on Oct. 6.

The parks were closed because of a recent uptick in coronavirus cases in the region and because complaints were being received that the parks were filled to capacity and that people were not following social distancing guidelines, municipal officials said at the time.

Victor Cook, the coordinator of Howell’s Office of Emergency Management, has reported that all of the equipment in the municipal parks was cleaned during the time the facilities were closed.

“A plan was quickly rolled out to phase in usage again after all playground equipment and high-touch areas were sanitized,” Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said.

Howell Department of Public Works employees were assisted by employees from the Lakewood Department of Public Works in getting the parks ready to reopen.

During the Oct. 20 meeting of the Township Council, resident Kathi Novak commended municipal officials for handling the situation in the manner they did. She asked what officials were doing to prevent the same situation from reoccurring.

Geoghegan said he is hoping people learned from the situation and will be a little bit wiser in their future use of the parks. He said efforts have been made to reach out to Lakewood to inform residents of that neighboring town whose residents visit Howell’s parks.

Responding to a suggestion that has been made at various times by some individuals, Geoghegan said it it is illegal for Howell officials to restrict the use of the township’s parks to residents.

“It is completely illegal for us to do that. Other towns have tried that and have lost significant lawsuits, so that is not an option despite what a lot of residents seem to think,” he said.

Novak said park rules and regulations need to be enforced. She said Monmouth County parks have park rangers stationed at a location, but noted it is not possible to station Howell police officers at municipal parks.

“I am asking you as the township manager to do something in the future for our parks and I am not suggesting you keep people out. I want to let everyone in, that is who I am, but I also want people to respect our parks,” Novak said.

Geoghegan said it was not an easy to make the decision to close the parks. He again noted that complaints had been received about what was occurring in terms of the number of people at the facilities and the lack of social distancing.