Piscataquis County Ice Arena has been refurbished while it was closed during the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Matt Spooner | Piscataquis County Ice Arena

The Piscataquis Community Ice Arena and the Piscataquis Regional YMCA, both in Dover-Foxcroft, reopened this week after shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two student athletes who attended Foxcroft Academy summer workout sessions were diagnosed with the coronavirus, which also put a halt to the workouts.

Social distancing protocols were in place when the rink opened on Monday for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March.

Sixteen Maine Junior Black Bears became the first group to step on the ice for a practice session.

“They couldn’t use the locker rooms. They had to come with their equipment on except their skates,” said Matt Spooner, the director of programming for the facility, which opened last fall.

Spooner said they purposely made sure that the Junior Black Bears represented the only event on Monday “so we could see what we needed to do to clean up and sanitize after practice.

“It took us a solid half-hour, 45 minutes,” he added.

Wednesday provided an even bigger challenge with 24 youngsters and adults involved in their learn-to-skate program.

“We had two groups. The group in the first half came through a certain door and changed in a certain area and the second group came in through another door and changed in a different area,” said Spooner.

Everyone had to wear face coverings until they got onto the ice.

He said they have ordered some outdoor canopies so they can set up two 20-by-30-foot changing facilities outside the rink. They won’t be heated at first, but Spooner said they could be eventually.

Friday’s schedule included private skating lessons and another Maine Junior Black Bear practice.

The facility will be closed on Saturday so staff can attend the Pine Tree Hospice charity golf tournament at the Foxcroft Golf Club, but Sunday will feature power skating lessons and adult stick-and-puck, which is pick-up hockey.

Practice sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the Maine Junior Black Bears and the Brewer Youth Hockey program will highlight next week’s list of activities.

Family members and friends are allowed to attend the practices by going to the second level of the facility.

“There is a check-in system. We are only allowed to have 50 people there. But there’s plenty of room to keep their distance [at least six feet],” said Spooner.

The two recent COVID-19 cases in the state’s safest county, Piscataquis [7 cases, 0 deaths], served as a wake-up call, according to Spooner.

“It made it more realistic. It’s here,” Spooner said.

“There are going to be times we are going to have to shut the doors. With COVID-19, that’s the way of the world these days. We are providing entertainment and activities. But we have to be smart and use common sense,” Spooner said.

The YMCA used its five-day hiatus to clean its facility.

On the Piscataquis Regional YMCA website, CEO Mandy Adams wrote, “As our youth return to school and after-school activities, including our after-school programs, it is likely we will close again as positive cases are discovered and exposure is a possibility in our facility.

“We will continue to clean many times a day, every day, and encourage safe social distancing as well as face coverings. We are doing our best to do our part to keep the numbers in our community to a minimal [sic].”