Shanna Fowler swims freestyle as she does laps in the Kokomo YMCA pool. Staff photo by Kelly Lafferty Gerber
Shanna Fowler swims freestyle as she does laps in the Kokomo YMCA pool. Staff photo by Kelly Lafferty Gerber

Summer fun will definitely be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while it is encouraged that families have a good time outdoors, officials say the rules still apply to keep you and your family safe in public pools, water parks, lakes and beaches, and hot tubs.

IN THE WATER

The Centers for Disease Control and and Prevention [CDC] says there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be spread through water in public pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds.

Proper operation and sanitation of aquatic venues, and treating the water with disinfectants such as chlorine and bromine, should inactivate the virus, according to “Considerations for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19,” which is published by the CDC.

“Swimming water has not been known to be a source of transmission,” said Kristen Kelley, IU Health’s director of infection prevention. “There’s been no reports of pool water being a source of it. It really is about coming in contact with, typically the air, of another infected person, for an extended time, usually in close quarters.”

Kelley, a registered nurse certified in infection control who has a Master’s Degree in Public Health and Epidemiology, said the novel coronavirus is a droplet organism that spreads via air.

Risk comes mainly from someone who is unmasked and within 3 to 6 feet for about 10 to 15 minutes of someone who is infected. Additionally, Kelley said most transmissions of the virus happen in enclosed areas.

“The positive part about pools is that it’s usually outside,” Kelley said. “The fresh air tends to break up any COVID molecules easily and dissipates the source of the virus.”

BEACH, PUBLIC POOL GUIDELINES

Kokomo Beach Family Aquatic Center, a water park in Kokomo, opened at half-capacity on June 14, allowing up to 700 swimmers. The city-owned water park features a leisure pool, lazy river, water slides and more.

In preparation for that opening, guidelines were achieved with collaboration from local officials and following the CDC guidelines, said Torrey Roe, superintendent for Kokomo’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The guidelines include daily cleaning procedures that mandate sanitizing deck chairs, lazy river tubes, handrails, the two slide towers, all access ladders/steps, concession stand tables, features of a splash pad and entry activity area, and routine cleaning of bathhouses and family changing center.

“The city is taking the aggressive approach on cleaning and sanitizing,” he said. “We’ve got stuff set up everywhere and are doing our best to help social distancing through signage. We’re trying to keep the public, No. 1, informed, and No. 2, safe.” 

Safety strategies don’t stop at disinfecting. Employees are screened by supervisors prior to each shift to ensure they aren’t displaying symptoms of coronavirus. Masks and gloves are available for staff to use when in contact with the public.

Marion resident Doug Munday and his family visited Kokomo Beach on June 16, and said it was actually nicer to have less of a crowd than when it's at full capacity.

"Our experience was awesome," he said. "All day I saw workers spraying and wiping down tables and such after people had gotten up from eating and such.

"The number of people that are allowed in there is perfect. You weren’t bumping into everyone or have to feel like you had to be right on top of someone. It seemed to us, being from out of town that they were doing everything right to do the best that is possible during this time."

Visitors are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks when out of the water. The CDC, as well as the Red Cross, advises masks should not be worn in water because it may be difficult to breathe.

“We wanted to come up with every precaution necessary to make sure that every single person who visited the facility, whether you’re an employee or a visitor, would feel safe and realize they have extra precautions so they’d feel like they’d want to come,” Roe said.

Some of those other precautions include sanitizing stations placed strategically throughout the facility and signage listing suggested strategies on how the public can stay safe and fight against the spread of germs and diseases.

 

“A lot of our guidelines were developed through the CDC and leaning on other municipalities with pools as well. We rely on each other for sharing experience and ideas,” he said. “We bounce ideas off other communities. We share really good information that way.”

Roe said the water park’s opening weekend was “great.”

“Numbers were really perfect for us, it allowed us to really get our training techniques and roll out the new procedures we have going at Kokomo Beach,” he said.

Plans to open for full capacity will be initiated once Howard County enters Stage 5 in the Indiana Back on Track Plan, which is planned for July 5.

BEING PROACTIVE

Some things, like social distancing in water, are harder to enforce than a rigorous cleaning schedule. Kelley said she worked with her neighborhood pool, which addressed distance concerns.

“As soon as you get in the source of water, especially with children, kids don’t always know how to socially distance. Six feet is like 6 inches to them,” she said. “If you have health issues in your family, anyone who is immuno-compromised, children could potentially pick this up at the water park. They could bring it home. It’s likely you’re not going to be able to socially distance.”

Kelley worked with her local pool to construct safety guidelines. Some of the guidelines they decided on included spacing out chairs, making use of grassy areas for more seating, taping off the snack area to create 6-foot squares to encourage distancing and more.

Kelley mentioned an article published in “The Lancet Public Health,” an online, open-access medical journal, called “The effect of control strategies to reduce social mixing on outcomes of the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, China: a modelling study.”

“It said that social distancing is one of our best tools, followed by masking, in order to prevent the spread. And we’ve seen really great success with social distancing,” she said. “Continuing with those principals, it’s really positive.”

Duchess Adjei, the regional communication director for the American Red Cross Indiana Region, said in an email to “maintain social distancing, both in and out of the water, between you and people who don’t live with you. If you don’t think your child can do this, come up with another activity.”.

Adjei urged swimmers to follow the public safety guidelines set by the facility. For general safety, make sure the area is designated for swimming before jumping in, and keep an eye on kiddos.

Some COVID-19 guidelines are a bit more nuanced.

“Wear face coverings on land, do not wear them in the water,” she said. “… Don’t share goggles, nose clips, snorkels or other personal items.”

Kelley advised calling ahead to check out what times are non-peak hours and use smart strategies to stay away from other people.

“Maybe bringing your own towels to sit on so you’re away from people or packing your own snacks so you don’t have to wait in long, congested lines,” she said. “Maybe call ahead and ask questions.”

Things like wiping down every surface and using hand sanitizer every half hour, while commendable, might be overkill, Kelley said. Washing hands after using the restroom and before eating and after being in public should help to ensure safety.

As Indiana nears Stage 5, Kelley said she understands the need to get out of the house. By taking a few extra steps, she said families can remain safe.

“This is likely going to be a window of opportunity for us to get out of the house a little bit before we see another wave, so I’m very supportive of people going out,” she said. “Take the time to have a little fun because a wave may come where we have to reset again.”

Supporting recreation outside of the house doesn’t mean people should set aside social distancing, masking, hand washing and avoiding face touching. She said Hoosiers must be as diligent and follow CDC guidelines.

“Everyone is eager to get out, but I still think this is a team sport,” she said. “Getting through this pandemic is absolutely a team sport and we’re all in this together. So where we succeed, we succeed as a team. We win or lose as a team.”

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