Waiting on the water

Swimming pools in limbo as summer season nears during pandemic

Jessica Gibbs
jgibbs@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/19/20

Swimming-pool operators in the Denver metro area say they are waiting on guidelines from local and state health departments to determine if, when and how they should reopen this season — but if …

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Waiting on the water

Swimming pools in limbo as summer season nears during pandemic

Posted

Swimming-pool operators in the Denver metro area say they are waiting on guidelines from local and state health departments to determine if, when and how they should reopen this season — but if they do reopen, the pool experience will likely look and feel different under the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Town of Castle Rock said it is waiting on guidance from the Tri-County Health Department before deciding if and when its community pools should reopen. In a normal season, most area pools reopen near Memorial Day and run through Labor Day.

The town operates two indoor pools at its recreation center, two outdoor pools, two outdoor splashpads and another indoor pool at the Miller Activity Complex aquatics center.

At the Miller Activity Complex splash pad alone, the town might see between 50,000 and 75,000 visits a year, aquatics supervisor Janice Weed said. The town’s pools are typically at capacity for the duration of peak hours — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — each day during a normal season.

Weed said the uncertainty around such a central facet of summer life “adds another layer of anxiety for everyone.”

“It’s just another drop in the bucket of disappointment,” she said.

Still up in the air

The Tri-County Health Department deferred to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment when asked how soon guidelines might come out.

A CDPHE spokesperson provided a statement from the Water Quality Control Division, saying the state will reassess phased openings of summer activities after June 1. As of now, all pools must remain closed under the state’s safer-at-home order.

“The governor will make these decisions on a rolling basis, based on the latest data and evidence,” the statement said. “The department relies heavily on the CDC for guidance on swimming pool cleaning and disinfection and is developing guidelines that will be consistent with the CDC.”

The department encouraged pool operators to familiarize themselves with CDC guidelines. The CDC suggested a slew of measures for to aquatic venues to employ if reopening — from promoting good behavior among users to maintaining clean and healthy facilities to preparing for when someone at a facility gets sick.

Brad Anderson is the aquatics supervisor for the City of Englewood, which operates an indoor pool at its recreation center plus the outdoor water park Pirates Cove.

The water park normally has a capacity of 1,800 people and typically sees 100,000 visitors in a year. As of now, Pirates Cove is slated to reopen on June 7, but that is also contingent on receiving guidelines from the health department and could change.

In addition to the possible closure of community gathering spaces, Anderson said he worries residents will lose a favorite exercise option should pools stay closed.

Englewood offers a variety of learn-to-swim classes, which are lifesavers because drowning is a leading cause of death among children, he said, and also offers exercise programs at its pools.

Anderson called the possible loss of swimming activities a big hit for the community.

“We are always looking for some place to get away from the mundane, everyday life, the stress that we have,” he said. “You can come to the swimming pool, a recreation center, you can exercise and relieve those stresses of everyday life and just get into a more relaxed atmosphere.”

Uncharted waters

John Field is president of the Westminster-based MSI LLC, a homeowners association management company that oversees 470 communities across the Front Range, with approximately 90 pools among them.

None of the company’s clients have made an official decision about whether their community pools will reopen this season, Field said, and the decision falls to each individual board of directors.

Most are waiting on the safer-at-home order to expire this month to decide, he said, but are preparing to reopen if possible.

“We predict that it will be controversial regardless of the board’s decision — there will almost certainly be friction in the community,” Field said. “It’s not an easy time to be a decision maker.”

Field, Weed and Anderson all said that if pools do reopen, people should prepare for a new normal.

It is possible pools will not put out lounge furniture, to discourage people from congregating in groups. People will still be urged to stay six feet apart and wear a mask when not in the water.

Pools might reopen at a lower capacity, or if necessary, conduct recreation by appointment. Staff will likely monitor social distancing at the community pools, although most HOA private pools are swim-at-your-own-risk facilities without lifeguards, Field said.

Weed and Anderson said their communities will also increase the cleaning and sanitizing of the municipalities’ facilities. Field said increasing cleaning measures will depend on each HOA’s budget availability.

“Without a doubt, you’d want to assure or at least encourage everyone to practice all the different social distancing and cleaning standards that have been put forward,” he said.

Weed asked the community to be patient while pools wait for the green light to reopen and said pool operators are trying to do the same.

“We want to open up just like everyone else,” she said.

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