By Linda Dillman
After deciding to not open the city’s swimming pool earlier this month, Canal Winchester officials took a second look after Governor Mike DeWine announced that municipal pools are permitted to open, albeit under strict pandemic restrictions.
“We always knew pools would be able to open at some point, but our decision to not open was based on the expected gathering and distancing restrictions that would have to be implemented,” said Canal Winchester Public Service Director Matt Peoples in a May 18 report to council.
Starting May 26, public pools regulated by local health departments in Ohio are permitted to open if they can meet mandated safety protocols.
However, when asked if the pool will open, Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert said the short answer is, “No.”
“Even though the governor says, ‘yes you can open,’ the public health directors are both in agreement and are not recommending opening of pools” said Ebert on May 20. “Even though that is not a direct order, we feel the requirements for us to open the pool will be more than our lifeguards will be able to handle as they have had no training of the new requirements and whoever is going to train them has no training either. If we were to open, it would not be the experience our attendees have had in the past. All social distancing policies will need to be followed, chairs will be a minimum of six feet apart, everyone in the pool will remain six feet apart. The daily admission at any given time would be about one third or less of our normal attendance.”
Ebert said there would be no gatherings allowed and attendees would be required to walk in specific directions to enter or exit the pool, go to the concession stand or use the restroom. Breaks would likely be more frequent and last for 30 minutes to allow for sanitizing of nearly every surface people encounter.
“If someone who visits the pool does come down with the virus at some point, everyone who was at the pool on the same day likely will be contacted by Franklin County Public Health and will need to go into quarantine,” said Ebert. “This and many more details are why we have not changed our position on keeping the pool closed. Canal Winchester residents have been doing a fantastic job of following the social distancing orders and not every community can say that. Even though this was a very tough decision to make, my biggest concern is the safety of our residents.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance of facilities, including disinfection with chlorine and bromine, should inactivate the virus in the water.
DeWine’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Group created a detailed list of guidelines and best practices for pool facilities to follow. They included the installation of physical barriers—lane lines in the pool or chairs and tables on the deck—and visual cues, such as tape on pool decks to ensure everyone not related stays at least six feet apart.
In addition, pools are mandated to discourage or prohibit shared objects, including goggles, nose clips, and snorkels, and close any non-essential areas where people could potentially congregate.
They are also required to develop and implement a reduced maximum capacity to allow six feet of distance between users and develop revised deck layouts in standing and seating areas, so individuals remain at least six feet apart.
Two letters supporting the continued closure of the pool were included in written comments shared on the May 18 Canal Winchester City Council agenda.
“I personally do not believe the pool should be opened for the 2020 season,” wrote resident Rachel Radford. “This is due to several factors, but mainly people cannot, and will not, socially distance. The virus has not had a chance to fully spread in the public and thus I do not feel there is enough scientific data or evidence to support a reopening. We can’t control people, but we can control if there are places to congregate in large numbers.”
Madeleine Dickerson shared similar comments, stating, “Why open up a very small pool packed with kids and adults who won’t be distancing? This could be a disaster and not worth the risk.”