Summer is fast approaching and school is coming to an end, making families eager and ready to head out to their favorite local pool. But this year, they may not have that option.
While some area cities have already elected to not open for the 2020 season, others are holding off on making a final decision.
Pine Springs Pool in Blooming Prairie will remain closed this summer, undergoing upgrades and maintenance in lieu of being open. An official decision on the Medford Pool and River Springs Water Park has yet to be made, but both city pools are ready in terms of staff – for now.
“We got really lucky and were able to recertify all of our staff over the Christmas break,” said Dani Licht, the recreation supervisor and pool manager at River Springs. “So for our current staff we have no issues, but I don’t have a new class of lifeguards coming in, and that concerns me.”
The American Red Cross, which provides the training for lifeguards and swim instructors for pools like River Springs, issued nationwide guidelines at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using an already blended learning program, new lifeguards are able to take half of their training online while the other half that includes water skills and CPR is to be done in person. Red Cross facilities are encouraged to have new lifeguards complete the online portion, but Licht said that when they can complete the training is still unknown.
“We can safely teach our CPR, First Aid and AED (automated external defibrillator) portion of the class — really we can do all of it, but the in-water actual lifeguarding skills,” Licht said. “Obviously when we train a new lifeguard they need to be able to do that, we can’t put them in a real-life situation if they haven’t trained in those skills.”
Though Licht said that she is set for the 2020 season in terms of lifeguards and swim instructors, she is deeply concerned about what it will mean for future pool seasons if they aren’t able to open and train new lifeguards.
“As my college kids phase out, I need that new class to come in and replace them,” Licht said. “And if we don’t open, I will be losing all of my staff as they go to grocery stores and other places to find a summer job. What is going to happen next year and the year after that?”
Aside from potentially losing lifeguards, Licht said that she is also worried about other repercussions that could follow the closure of swimming pools for the summer. She said that without a safe place for the community to swim, she is worried about where those families and children will go instead.
“We live in the land of 10,000 lakes, and having so much water that isn’t guarded is a huge concern of mine,” Licht said. “By not having our pools open, not only are we not giving families a place for to swim with lifeguards, but swimming lessons aren’t being offered. Kids aren’t learning how to swim or about how it’s not a good idea to swim alone or without a lifeguard.”
“There is a real possibility of someone drowning and that is not something we ever want to happen,” Licht continued. “Red Cross is recognizing this concern of no swim lessons across the country and they are trying to release some programs for parents to do online for water safety courses.”
Licht said that the likelihood of group swim lessons happening in 2020 is low, but that they are still looking into ways to provide private swim lessons. While the higher level lessons will be easier to provide as the swim instructor will be able to still adhere to social distancing, the lower level lessons that are sometimes more crucial to provide will be more difficult to offer. One possibility Licht suggested as a way to offer lessons and adhere to social distancing recommendations is to require a parent or guardian to be in the water with the child during the lower level lessons.
“Those private lessons are something we really could possibly offer because obviously there is only one family in the water at a time with the instructor,” Licht said. “It’s easier for the instructor to keep track of the student and there is no cross contamination between families.”
Though some people may worry about the transmission of COVID-19 at swimming pools, Licht said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already released data that shows that the appropriate levels of chlorine and chemicals already used in pools will kill off the virus. She added that if pools are to open, however, that people will need to take extra precautions to avoid touching other surface areas at the pool and still avoid touching their faces.
“We will have to take extra steps to sanitize everything from the bathrooms to the hand rails, and we are doing all we can to look into those areas,” Licht said. “But the water itself is safe.”
At this time, Licht said that there is no timeline for when the city will decide about opening River Springs this summer.
The city of Medford has also yet to make a decision on whether or not to open the city pool, though a plan has already been put in place if they do. If the pool does open in 2020, it will open a week later than normal on Saturday, June 13, according to a memorandum from the city administrator. The pool staff would also be enforcing social distancing, allowing approximately 25 to 30 patrons in the large pool at a time and only three to four patrons in the baby pool. The 2020 pool season is scheduled to be discussed by the Medford City Council Monday evening.