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Jones Beach cleaners aim to keep facilities, beachgoers virus-free

Silma Donaldson, of Roosevelt, who works as a

Silma Donaldson, of Roosevelt, who works as a bathroom matron at Jones Beach, has been enforcing mask-wearing this summer. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Don’t just think of them as the state park housekeepers who accomplish small miracles every day, keeping the bathrooms at Jones Beach as spotless as humanly possible.

They must also keep them virus-free for the thousands drawn to the sand by the sun and sea.

Since the pandemic, officials say bathroom attendants have intensified the methods and frequency of their disinfecting regimens so that state parks — increasingly popular because so many other traditional summer pastimes have been curtailed by COVID-19 — do not disappoint or endanger visitors.

”The bathroom attendant job is absolutely critical,” said George Gorman, Long Island regional director of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, by telephone. “Even before the pandemic, we were concerned about infection,” he said.

No stranger to complaints from the public, he added: “It’s one of the things they remember most.”

Attendance has skyrocketed at the nearly century-old Wantagh state park, prized for its white sand beach, historic bathhouses, spacious pool and theater, even with all concerts, the Memorial Day weekend air show and the July Fourth fireworks canceled.

Parking capacity, halved to encourage social distancing, has led to more turnover, as early risers arrive earlier and then leave earlier, making way for others. And summer heat waves — along with the allure of cooling sea breezes after Tropical Storm Isaias caused so many to lose power — also drove attendance.

The bathhouse showers are closed to ensure people remain separated by that 6-foot minimum. But the matrons and porters who now must clean the bathrooms to an even higher standard are also part of a new crew that must remind visitors to wear masks and maintain social distance. 

Their requests are not universally followed.

“You have to be nice to them because you want them to come back to the park,” said Janet Brown, 54, of Queens, now working her 13th summer at the park. “Ýou can’t yell at them, you have to be pleasant.”

Reactions naturally vary. “Some are very nice; some listen, some don’t,” she said.

Her observations about who is most likely to comply — older individuals — and who is not — the college-age crowd — match those of other workers and visitors.

When it comes to the stubbornly mask-free, “Some of the younger ones, they curse you out,” said Brown, who is left to explain why they should cover their mouths and noses. “I say to protect yourself and others.”

None of the workers’ steadfast patience and expertise can fully shield them from the anger and disrespect that can blaze forth from the frustrated, impatient or just plain mean parkgoer, who visits their fury on someone muzzled by innate courtesy and job limitations.

“I can’t do anything,” said another matron, Silma Donaldson, 60, of Roosevelt, who began working at the park in 2013. “I just try to be nice and just take it easy and try to relax.”

At least simply being at the beach, along with other tasks such as gardening, mowing and trash collecting, can offer relief from such disagreeable encounters. When the time comes for a hard-earned break, the seaside can work its magic.

Said Donaldson: “Sometimes I just go sit down.”

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