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Local governments are beginning to allow swimming pools and other aquatic facilities to reopen as restrictions ease across the United States of America. Lifesaving Resources Inc. provides guidance and training to aquatic facilities looking to safely reopen their doors and resume operations. The guidelines issues by the company are based on current advice from the Scientific Advisory Council on COVID-19 and Aquatics.

The primary factor is to determine laws in the local community. The federal government has released guidelines, including ‘Opening up American Again’ from the White House and the more specific considerations from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for public pools and water playgrounds.

Guidelines for reopening aquatic facilities

Specific guidelines for opening a swimming pool or similar facility will be handed down on a regional level

Specific guidelines for opening a swimming pool or similar facility will be handed down on a regional level. Likely, local regulations will include limits to capacity and updated lifeguard training.

Reopening a swimming pool, waterpark or other aquatic facility, in the COVID-19 pandemic time, will require a reassessment of policies and the creation of new procedures, to address safely managing visitors, responding to emergencies and keeping staff mindful of the new reality resulting from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Considerations to reopen aquatic facilities include:

  • How will customers/patrons/visitors be kept socially distant from each other?
  • How will safety personnel/lifeguards use, store and maintain personal protective equipment?
  • How will common areas and high-touch surfaces disinfected? In particular, restrooms and changing areas.
  • What are local guidelines for employees returning to work as it relates to COVID-19 testing? Will on-site screening be necessary? Can employees self-certify?
  • Do local rules require guests to be screened?
  • Many jurisdictions require masks while in public areas, how would this be interpreted for around a pool or other aquatic facility?
  • If a guest or employee is found to be sick, what procedures will be followed? Will closure be required or local health department notification? What additional sanitizing procedure will be needed? How will an employee or visitor be isolated and removed from the facility?
  • Lifeguards watching swimmers should not take on additional responsibility of ensuring COVID-19 policies around the pool area are followed. Facilities must continue to adhere to proper Standard of Care in Lifeguarding.
  • If contact tracing is required, a procedure must exist to track visitors and employees with necessary contact information.
  • Following an employee illness, what are guidelines for returning to work?
  • Can some staff members work remotely once facility reopens?
  • Will masks be provided to staff and/or guests that need one? How will they be sourced?

The new COVID-19 procedures should fall under the clear authority of a specific staff member, to ensure compliance and to ensure that they do not place a burden on those assigned to active lifeguarding duties.

Managing pool decks, changing areas and swimming areas

Prior to reopening, a signage plan will need to be implemented. Once again, these plans will be specific to the local state government’s guidelines. The plan needs to include:

  • Lifeguards - As mentioned previously, lifeguards on active swimmer safety duty must not be assigned COVID-19 related tasks.
  • Swim facility with proper social distancing - Capacity of swim facility as a whole, as well as areas including locker rooms, changing areas and offices must be determined. There should be proper signage and a procedure for managing these limits. For example, how will limits on number of people in locker rooms are kept in check?
  • Distancing of swimmers - Swimmers should be instructed to keep proper distance from each other in the swimming pool. Facilities may want to utilize a guard with the specific purpose of keeping an eye on distance between swimmers.
  • Pool deck - Chairs should be reconfigured to adhere to distancing rules. Total capacity may be reduced resulting in storage of some chairs. Excess chairs should be stored out of reach of visitors to help reduce crowding.
  • Food service areas - Food service may have different regulations in your jurisdiction. A facility offering food should ensure local guidelines for that aspect of the business are closely followed.

Creation of Visual and Physical Guides

Visual guides may include marks at proper distance on ground in changing or food service areas

Visual guides may include marks at proper distance on ground in changing or food service areas, or arrows guiding guest flow around swimming pool. Physical guides may include arrangement of chairs on deck.

Additional areas may need to be created to allow guests and staff to maintain proper hand cleanliness. This includes an ample supply of soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels and no-touch trash cans. Supplies in these areas must be maintained, restocked and cleaned frequently.

In particular, hand hygiene areas should be placed:

  • At facility entrance
  • At areas of food service
  • At the entrance to staff break rooms
  • At the entrance to locker rooms and/or changing areas
  • Near pool for use after exiting water

Signage Requirements

At minimum, new signage should be placed to address the following:

  • Cloth face covering requirements
  • Facility entrance screening criteria
  • Encouragement of proper hygiene, including keeping hands clean, and covering mouth for cough or sneeze
  • Social distancing requirements
  • Swimmer distancing rules

The CDC provides posters for swimming facilities to use, although these are not specific to the COVID-19 precautions

Attention should be brought to any policies changed from normal operations, such as limits to number of people in swimming pool, contact rules in pool or closures of certain areas.

The CDC provides posters for swimming facilities to use, although these are not specific to the COVID-19 precautions.

Shared Equipment

Visitors should be discouraged from sharing items that are difficult to sanitize, particularly those that come in contact with the face, such as goggles or snorkels. Facilities may want to limit use of shared equipment to one group at a time to allow for proper cleaning.

To help protect swimmers from COVID-19, additional precautions may be put into place impacting in-pool activities. These may include:

  • If lap swimming occurs, lanes may need to be reconfigured based on lane width
  • Organized aquatic classes may need to reduce class size based on available exercise area to allow for proper distancing
  • Awareness of any changes to use of swimming pool that may impact location of different skill swimmers

In light of distance requirements necessitated by COVID-19, there are activities that should not take place upon reopening of a swimming pool. This includes any sport or activity that places swimmers in close proximity of each other, such as water polo.

Managing High Risk Swimmers

Swim facilities with high-risk visitors should consider implementing additional rules such as:

  • Adding specific pool times for those at high risk, such as early morning swim hours prior to arrival of general patrons
  • Suggested areas marked for use by those at risk for more serious issues

Scientists currently believe that free chlorine and bromine are adequate to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 when used at proper levels.

Recommended Pool Chemical levels

The ideal pool pH range is from 7.4 to 7.6 to ensure proper disinfection rates

Free chlorine from 2ppm to 4ppm with a maximum of 10ppm is suggested to ensure circulating water in a pool or hot tub is disinfected. Bromine at 4ppm to 6ppm with a maximum of 8ppm is also acceptable. Of course, never mix chlorine and bromine.

Testing pool pH and disinfectant levels should be done on a frequent basis and from different areas of the pool or hot tub to ensure proper distribution of disinfectants. The ideal pool pH range is from 7.4 to 7.6 to ensure proper disinfection rates.

Cleaning Pool Facilities

To ensure proper cleaning of the property, facilities should refer to the Environmental Protection Agency List N: Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2. As new chemicals are introduced to the maintenance process, it is critical to refer to Certified Pool Operators or equivalent to ensure disinfectants are safe for use in contact with chlorinated pool water.

Frequently touched areas should be kept clean and shared objects should be disinfected after each use. These objects include: handrails, slides, climbing/play structures, lounge chairs, table tops, pool steps, kick boards, door handles, restroom surfaces, diaper changing stations and showers, among others.

New Organizational Procedures

Along with the new procedures in cleaning and disinfecting items, pool facilities must also create systems to clearly track and separate disinfected items from non-cleaned items.

  • How will lounge chairs that need to be cleaned be identified and separated from those that have been cleaned?
  • Once chairs/furniture are disinfected, how will they be kept from becoming contaminated before use?
  • Towel laundering is more important than ever. Ensure proper amounts of soap are used, items are washed in the warmest advised temperature and that they are dried completely.
  • Be aware of items used by multiple staff members, ensure containers are kept clean.
  • With the introduction of new cleaning chemicals, ensure safe storage away from guest access.
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