By KERRI SANDAINE
For Inland 360
With summer right around the corner, parks and recreation directors across the region are diving into the COVID-19 rule book before opening public pools.
The pandemic is forcing facilities to open later than usual as officials figure out how to keep people apart as they swim and soak up the sun at popular venues.
The cities of Lewiston and Moscow are eyeing a launch around July 1. Pullman is focusing on opening its indoor pool as early as June 22, but the Asotin County Family Aquatic Center hasn’t identified a target date.
Tim Barker, director of Lewiston Parks and Recreation, said the Bert Lipps pool will be closed this summer because of the shortened season, lack of sufficient staffing levels, budget cutbacks and COVID-19 restrictions that prohibited training.
However, the Orchards pool should be open on July 1, Barker said. The plan is to practice social distancing and adhere to all of Idaho’s guidelines. The wading pool may be opened with a limit on the number of users, he said.
“If Gov. Brad Little delays stages and things get pushed back, we may further adapt our guidelines, or worst case, reconsider opening,” Barker said. “We are in the process of reviewing the ‘Idaho Rebounds’ protocols for outdoor pools, splashpads and waterparks, so we can make sure that we operate safely.”
Across the river in Clarkston, Aquatics Center Director Scott Stoll is still seeking clarification from Washington state on specific reopening requirements.
“As of now, we anticipate reopening the indoor facility during Phase 3, with a limited capacity,” Stoll said. “The outdoor waterpark could open during Phase 3 or Phase 4. Once we receive more information from the state, we’ll be able to make that determination.”
Asotin County moved to Phase 2 on Monday. According to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, each phase is expected to last three weeks, unless there are new outbreaks of the virus in the community.
Stoll said swimming lessons will likely be affected by the restrictions. The standard class size at the Asotin County Family Aquatics Center is three to six students per instructor. However, officials are expecting the state to cap class sizes.
“Our upper-level and adult classes will be able to social distance,” Stoll said, “but that will be more difficult with our younger classes.”
In the event traditional swimming lessons are restricted, the American Red Cross has put together free online classes for parents and children who want to work on water safety basics, Stoll said. Those links are available on the www.redcross.org website.
Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found no evidence the virus can spread through water, Stoll said. Chlorine, which kills the coronavirus, will be kept at normal levels at area pools.
On the Palouse, Moscow Parks and Recreation Director Dwight Curtis said his staff is in “wait-and-see” mode.
“We are preparing the pool to open, but we’re still seeing how this all shakes out,” Curtis said. “It will likely happen around the first of July, but the city council will make that determination.”
Maintaining safe water won’t be a problem at the Hamilton-Lowe Aquatics Center, but that of course is not the only concern.
“The challenge is when people are out of the water,” Curtis said. “We have enough space to keep everyone apart, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will stay apart. Social distancing will be a challenge. We are going to have a full sanitation crew on deck, and we will do our best. If we feel it can’t be done safely, we won’t open. But at this point, we are training lifeguards and staff so we’ll be ready to go if the city council gives us the go-ahead.”
In Pullman, Recreation Manager Kurt Dahmen said the fate of the public pools is still a bit murky. To open, Whitman County will have to be approved for a Phase 3 variance, which is still weeks away.
“We are still exploring our options,” Dahmen said. “Our focus is to get the aquatic center open and possibly offering one activity at a time. We still have a lot of questions and are probably looking at limited operations this summer.”
Compounding the problem is a lack of lifeguards and other support staff. When Washington State University switched to online classes this spring, Dahmen lost most of his seasonal employees. Many students left Pullman around spring break and never returned, he said.
Another consideration is budget cutbacks. COVID-19 is taking a big chunk out of city coffers, which could affect how much money is available for recreation. Leaving the outdoor pool closed this summer may be the only option, Dahmen said.
“Right now, we are targeting June 22 to begin our summer programming,” he said. “Of course that will depend on when we reach Phase 3.”
Information on opening days and hours of operation will be updated on city and county websites throughout the coming weeks, officials said.