- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Memorial Day traditionally marks the beginning of the season for outdoor pools, but, as it has with just about every other aspect of American life, the COVID-19 pandemic has clouded the waters ahead of this long holiday weekend.

Most pools in the Washington region will remain closed because of government restrictions and guidelines intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In the District, the pools have been closed since March. Mayor Muriel Bowser will speak about pools during a Friday press conference covering schools and summer programs, her chief spokesperson told The Washington Times.

Swimming pools aren’t explicitly covered under Maryland’s reopening plan, but sources say they might be allowed to open in phase two. Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county, announced Monday that its public, neighborhood and apartment and condo pools would not open in time for the holiday weekend.

“We know that many in the community equate pool openings with the official start of the summer season, but ongoing COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to safely open so that swimmers and employees are protected from the spread,” Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer, said in a statement.

Virginia is the exception in the region. The state’s pools were allowed to open as part of its first phase of reopening, but only for lap swimming with one person per lane. That means no large groups or pool parties.

Northern Virginia has yet to enter phase one. Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties are maintaining stay-at-home orders through at least May 29 because of high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no evidence that the coronavirus can spread from person to person inside pools or hot tubs because chlorine and bromine “should inactivate the virus in the water,” but pools are popular gathering spots during the summer.

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of pressure from folks saying, ‘Hey, chlorinated water is actually safe. People can swim,’” said Robert Green, a D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation program manager who coaches the D.C. Wave swim team. “Our main concern is really the chokepoints of the facilities: everyone coming in the same door, everyone having to use the same locker rooms.”

As with most other coronavirus restrictions, pool closures are by no means uniform across the country.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said pools in his state may open May 26, the day after Memorial Day, but with reduced capacity and social distancing. The state also recommended face coverings while not swimming.

Texas also allowed pools to reopen this month, but several cities decided to wait. They include Austin, home of the spring-fed Barton Springs Pool.

“City pools, which would have started to open in phases by now, are currently closed,” an Austin city spokesperson told The Times. “This is under evaluation to see if any operations are possible this summer. The current stay-at-home, work-safe order runs until May 30. The Parks and Recreation Department will continue to consult with health officials to monitor the situation and determine if and when services should reopen.”

Bob Scott, mayor of Sioux City, South Dakota, said Monday that “we may not be able to open the pools at all” this year.

For many in the District and Maryland, which has a strong swimming culture that produced Olympic stars Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, closing pools indefinitely might not be acceptable.

Yet the pandemic has forced some summer swim leagues, including the Central Maryland Swim League, to cancel their 2020 seasons. The Montgomery County Swim League called off its main meets while holding out hope that it can put on some form of a season once restrictions are lifted.

In the District, Mr. Green called it “pretty doubtful” that the Department of Public Works will hold its usual summer league, though there has been no official word. The Northern Virginia Swim League has canceled its season.

The Prince-Mont Swim League, which covers parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, has not called off the season and is working on different scenarios “to get in as much of a season as possible,” said Ken Wenzel, president of Belair Swim & Racquet Club in Bowie, Maryland.

Belair was scheduled to open Saturday, but the board of directors sent members an email Wednesday to say the facility will be closed this weekend and will reopen in accordance with state and local guidelines.

“The one thing our board stresses to our members is that the safety of all of our members, family and friends is paramount,” Mr. Wenzel said. “So we’re not going to do anything until we’re absolutely sure everything is safe.”

Mr. Wenzel said the Belair board had yet to talk with the pool’s insurers regarding liability if someone claimed to catch the virus while at the pool. The pool is insured year-round.

In the meantime, local pool members are still paying dues, unsure when they will be able to swim again and while Americans are losing countless jobs. At Belair, a member-owned pool, the board is doing what it can to ease the financial burden, including setting up payment plans, Mr. Wenzel said.

“We don’t want to lose anybody for that,” he said. “Yet we have had some people leave. Understandable, they said that they just can’t afford it, and we understand that.”

For those who simply can’t wait to swim again, particularly the 265 D.C. Wave athletes who range in age from 7 to high school, Mr. Green said it’s important to remember that the pandemic is out of their control.

“Obsessing over it and worrying about it is really not going to be helpful for them,” he said. “The main message is stay positive, keep yourself in shape. Find other outlets for physical activity and socialization that you can do right now. Because that’s going to get us through this phase.”

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