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Go Ask Mom

Durham's pools will not open this summer, other towns still considering when and how to open pools

Posted May 21, 2020 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2020 11:56 a.m. EDT

North Carolina will move to Phase 2 of its three-phase plan to reopen the state at 5 p.m., Friday, and that means pools can open with limited capacity as we move into the Memorial Day weekend.

But several of the region's public pools will not open in time for the long weekend. And, on Thursday, Durham's parks department announced that it will not be opening its outdoor and indoor pools for the entire summer.

Durham operates three outdoor pools, two indoor pools and four spraygrounds. Cynthia Booth, public affairs specialist with Durham's parks department, said it's not clear yet if the city will be able to open its spraygrounds this summer.

"After careful consideration, review of information from trade associations specifically the National Parks and Recreation Association, and guidance from federal, state, and local health officials, we will not open Durham’s ... swimming pools for the 2020 summer season," she said in a statement.

"The safety of our participants and staff is our number one priority," the statement says. "In addition, we are dedicated to providing services that are equitable for everyone. The logistical challenges of being able to provide these services safely would severely limit the number of our residents who would be able to access these services. While this was a difficult decision, we have determined that the challenges described above outweigh the benefit to the few that we would be able to safely serve."

The city says that opening the pools creates a series of safety challenges and concerns related to COVID-19, including the need to hire and train a sufficient number of seasonal lifeguards in a short period of time. Another challenge would be the need to find ways to minimize the amount of people within its smaller pool facilities, limiting their ability to ensure equitable access.

At the same time, they would need to require visitors and staff to maintain a social distance and wear masks when they cannot, according to the statement. They also would need to increase cleaning and sanitizing frequencies required for decks, surfaces and locker rooms, which would require additional staff.

New rules force big changes

North Carolina's requirements and recommendations for public pools aim to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but they also present substantial challenges for pool operators.

In this second phase of reopening, swimming pools can open at 50% capacity or with no more than one person per 33 square feet of deck area. Ten people can be in the water for every 1,000 square feet.

Other recommendations include:

  • Limiting the use of swim lanes to one swimmer per lane when lanes are provided.
  • Providing lifeguards with pocket masks to eliminate mouth to mouth contact in case resuscitation is needed.
  • Staggering swimming times or using reservation systems.
  • Installing plexiglass barriers as a barrier for gate attendants.
  • Removing pool toys and any shared exercise equipment.
  • Using contactless entry options and apps to alert patrons when the pool area is available based on schedule or occupancy.

Wait and see

At least one public pool is planning to open on Memorial Day for recreational swimming. In Cary, the Triangle Aquatics Center announced that it would be open to swimmers starting Monday, May 25. The pool will be open only to swimmers who want to exercise; no water play time will be available for now, according to the announcement. Swim periods will run for 40 minutes.

Officials at other local parks departments with public pools across the Triangle weren't quite ready Thursday to announce their summer plans.

In Knightdale, the town's community pool has a tentative open date of June 6.

"Our final decision on whether to open then has not been finalized yet and will be based on a little more research into how we are able to open, and maintain the safety of residents and visitors," wrote Jonas Silver, the town's public information officer, in an email.

In Raleigh, Kellee Beach, the city's marketing communications administrator for the city's parks, recreation and cultural resources department, said the city has not yet determined a reopening date for pools, but expects to update its plans by June 26.

"The health and safety of our participants and staff will continue to be our top priority," she said. "We are reviewing the feasibility of managing these spaces while following social distancing guidelines and other measures recommended by the CDC and will provide an update as soon as we can."

In Chapel Hill, the town also is taking a slower approach. Its pools also will not open when the state moves to Phase 2, according to Phil Fleischmann, the parks and recreation director, in an email.

And in Wake Forest, Ruben Wall, the town's parks and recreation director, said officials are still considering their options.

"We have not made any final decisions as it relates to our aquatic facilities," Wall wrote in an email. "We’re having internal discussions to determine how we can potentially open and adhere to the safety precautions that have been established."