Did you know that swimming is the fourth most popular activity amongst Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)? While the nation was looking forward to enjoying pools as the summer heat ramped up, COVID-19 arrived and changed the trajectory of our lives entirely. WT Group’s Aquatic Engineering Principal-in-Charge, Rich Klarck, helps us better grasp the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on the aquatics industry. Rich, with over 30 years of experience planning and designing a variety of aquatic-related facilities and venues, shares his thoughts on how the pandemic is affecting us today.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, individuals are finding it hard to keep entertained and the closure of aquatic facilities is a drastic change for many. From the perspective in Illinois, many aquatic venues and public pools will remain closed with a few exceptions. While the federal government has not mandated closures for commercial pools, it has been up to the states to decide the fate of such facilities. Those that do open, the CDC suggests daily disinfecting of every surface at swimming pools – handrails, kickboards, and more. Reopening modifications and patron expectations, including reduced capacity and distancing, are generally outlined by the respective venue or park district.
At this point in time, there is no solid evidence that the Coronavirus can spread through the water. The CDC has stated that pool water is actually not a likely source of virus transmission. In fact, the real transmission occurs when many individuals come in close proximity with one another. Ultimately, it is a social distancing issue because pools tend to be larger gathering places. Social distancing is truly important in all environments, whether it occurs in the pool or in the grocery store. Additionally, newer and modernized aquatic designs tend to have smaller zero depth areas, which makes it extremely difficult for social distancing to be a possibility at all. As life guards are also essential, they can be placed at a much higher risk as it puts them in direct contact with the individuals using the facility.
Opening a facility takes time overall, and the sanitation of each facility will need to be the top priority. Typically, in the second week of May, all of the facilities have lifeguard training, which is time consuming as proper training is essential. Maintaining and chemically treating the pool water properly is also extremely important, as many people can introduce organics in the pool. Increase of testing to ensure chemicals are being upheld is essential. And of course, social distancing will have to take place while also examining newly adjusted capacity maximums.
We are learning new information about COVID-19 each and every day, and ultimately, the aquatics industry has certainly been impacted in a variety of ways, as noted above. Owners of aquatic facilities and venues should keenly evaluate the pandemic and determine the proper protocols if they choose to open.
For more information, visit the CDC website for additional guidance about prevention of COVID-19 and public aquatics facilities: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/aquatic-venues.html