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A tale of three cities’ pools

In the best of times, all city swimming pools would be planning to open no later than Memorial Day.  In these worst of times with COVID-19 lurking, some city pools will open and some will remain closed. 

Are those city decisions based on wisdom, foolishness, belief or incredulity?  Even though spring and summer are the seasons of light, will opening of pools in a time of pandemic cause a new season of darkness?  Will a spring of hope lead to a winter of despair?

Residents of St. Peters, O’Fallon and the city of St. Charles will learn the answers to those questions during the next three or four months.  O’Fallon and St. Charles will open their community pools. St. Peters will not.  In addition, everyone in St. Charles County will learn the answers, depending on what is decided by their local neighborhood and subdivision pool operators.

City of St. Peters

On March 17, the city announced that the St. Peters Rec-Plex at 5200 Mexico Road, including the indoor natatorium was closed indefinitely until further notice.  On April 27, the city announced: “The 2020 outdoor pool season has been canceled in St. Peters.  The Cove at St. Peters and Laurel Park Pool will not open to guests this summer.”

Rec-Plex natatorium [Source: City of St. Peters]

The city also has “splash pads” in Laurel Park, 370 Lakeside Park and at The Cove at St. Peters Aquatic Center. All of those will remain closed.

“This COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to make tough choices.  We are balancing the needs of our city, residents, public safety and finances,” St. Peters Communications Director Lisa Bedian said on May 20. “The outdoor pools are not self-funded programs. The fees and memberships we collect from pool users don’t cover the costs of running our outdoor pool operations. We will always try to consider the options that will benefit our city residents now and looking toward the future stability and success of St. Peters.”

City of O’Fallon

On May 19, O’Fallon Communications Director Tom Drabelle said, “We are excited to open these facilities for our residents this summer. We know things will be a little different than what our residents are used to, but we are making every effort to keep our residents and employees safe while allowing our residents to enjoy these popular summer destinations. We look forward to an exciting – and safe – summer at Alligator’s Creek and all of our parks.”

O’Fallon opened the Renaud Center at 2650 Tri Sports Circle on May 11, with the new hours of Monday-Friday, 5:15 a.m.-9 p.m. It remains closed on weekends. Members and new members are admitted, but no day passes are allowed. The Renaud Center indoor pool was opened May 11 as well, for lap swim and aqua aerobics on a limited schedule. There are no “open swim” times. Social distancing is required in all areas of the Renaud Center, including the pool.

Alligator’s Creek Aquatic Center pool [City of O’Fallon photo]

The Alligator’s Creek Aquatic Center is located on Civic Park Drive, west of Main Street and north of the railroad tracks. It will be open June 1 through Aug. 16, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. It also will be open those same hours for the weekends of Aug. 22-23 and Aug. 29-30. Detailed safety procedures, including social distancing and capacity limits, will be announced before the opening.

The water feature in O’Fallon’s O’Day Park on Route DD south of I-64 will open on June 1, from 8:30 a.m.-dusk. For safety, users of the water feature should plan to wear water shoes of some type and not be barefoot.  Restrooms in the park will reopen on May 22, but drinking fountains will not be turned on. Guests should bring their own drinking water.

Westhoof Park splash pad [Source: City of O’Fallon]

The splash pad in Westhoff Park, located off T.R. Hughes Boulevard, will open June 1, from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. The splash pad will be closed whenever there is lightning in the area.

City of St. Charles

Due to capacity limitations caused by the pandemic, only city residents and season pass holders will be admitted to St. Charles aquatic centers and must show a driver’s license for entry.

All aquatic facilities will have a sign posted, detailing COVID-19 precautions and rules.

Sign to be posted at St. Charles city pools

The Blanchette Aquatic Facility, 1900 Randolph St. will tentatively open May 30 through Aug. 16, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Capacity will be limited to 150 guests.

The Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility, 1875 Muegge Road, will be open May 23 through Sept. 7, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.  It will have limited capacity at 25% through May 31.  Wapelhorst’s total capacity is 200 guests.   

The McNair Aquatic Facility, 3200 Droste Road, will tentatively open June 13 through Aug. 9, daily from noon-6 p.m. Its capacity limit will be determined after May 31.

On May 19, Maralee M. Britton, St. Charles City Parks and Recreation director, provided insight into the city’s plans.

“Capacity limits at each facility will be reviewed continually with operations and recovery plan executive orders by the State of Missouri and St. Charles County in the coming months,” Britton said. “The water feature at Discovery Playground in Jaycee Park remains closed at this time. As the recovery plans progress and playgrounds are allowed to open, the water feature will be opened as well.

“Our staff has dedicated much time and energy into the planning and executing this opportunity to show leadership and creativity in how our facilities, programs and public spaces can be used safely during this pandemic.”

Wapelhorst Aquatic Center [Source: City of St. Charles]

Britton explained that in addition to the reduced capacities and additional cleaning of touchpoints, the city’s aquatic facilities have two levels of disinfectant methods to process the water by chlorine and ultraviolet [UV] system. The UV systems destroy pathogens that could enter the water and reduce the need to rely solely on chemicals, she said.

Britton closed by saying, “We are looking forward to our guests getting outside and enjoying the facilities as much as possible during this difficult time.”

Neighborhood/subdivision pools

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the pathogen that causes COVID-19 cannot be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas.  However, the opportunity for transmitting the virus does exist in surrounding areas.  

In addition to normal pool sanitary and safety practices, swimming pools should comply with the following interim guidelines issued by the CDC on May 11.  Those guidelines, listed beloew, are what every neighborhood and subdivision pool should be prepared to follow and be able to enforce for the safety of employees and guests.

  1. Facilities should only allow 20% of normal occupancy or five people [staff and visitors] per 1,000 square feet of pool and deck area, whichever is less.
  2. Person-to-person interaction and activities between members of separate households should be limited and social distancing of 6 feet between them should be practiced.
  3. Commonly used surfaces such as bathrooms, doors, handrails, ladders, gates, lawn chairs, drinking water fountains, picnic tables, etc. should be cleaned and disinfected between each use by a different person, or at a minimum, once per day.
  4. Hand sanitizer should be provided for use by all staff and visitors.
  5. Signs and/or examples of 6-foot areas related to social distancing should be posted.
  6. Full compliance with local pool regulations is always required.
  7. Remove from service or regularly disinfect sharable equipment [for example, kickboards, floats, etc.].
  8. Consider lane reservations to allow family groups to use a lane or specific area of a pool.
  9. Consider a phased approach to opening that brings back lane swimming and limited number participant classes before opening for general swimming.
  10. Life guards should continue to follow universal precautions when rendering first aid of any type to patrons.
  11. Follow CDC guidelines regarding cleaning and disinfecting.

The challenges of reopening

The parties responsible for opening and operating neighborhood and subdivision pools will have several challenges. 

In regard to pool “fairness” and limited capacity, operators will have to determine: How to say “no” to some residents desiring entry when their neighbors are already in the pool? How long should people be allowed to remain in the pool area; a specific maximum number of hours or all day?  

For pool premises safety: How often should chairs and lounges be wiped down; every time someone leaves or more often? How often should bathroom facilities be wiped down; after every use, or on a specific hourly schedule? How often should rails, gates and door handles be wiped down; every hour or twice daily? 

For at-risk individuals: Should seniors be prohibited from entering? What is the definition of a senior? Should very young children be prohibited from entering? What is the definition of very young? How should/could asymptomatic virus carriers be detected and prohibited from entering?

Another significant question for neighborhood and subdivision pool operators is: What will insurance carriers require in order for the operators to be covered if someone claims a COVID-19 infection as a result of entering and using the pool area?

While pool operators work to meet the challenges of opening safely amid COVID-19 concerns, pool guests also will have to weigh their individual risks. For each patron, the choice to swim and splash at a public pool this summer is a highly subjective and personal choice based on their personal risk factors and level of comfort.

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