The Wauseon city administrator behind the decision to open the community pool on Friday said the swimming season can work if patrons abide by COVID-19 restrictions set in place.
If not, the season can be cut short, he said.
Public Service Director Keith Torbet said the state’s social distancing restrictions will be enforced, and that pool guests unwilling to follow them will be asked to leave. He said the state’s coronavirus restrictions will become part of business as usual.
“This is no different than any other time, other than you have to be more aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Torbet said he determined the pool was safe to open after agreeing with its manager and employees and with Mayor Kathy Huner that it can meet state requirements concerning the current pandemic. He said the city will use some of the suggested guidelines sent to Governor Mike DeWine’s office by Swim Safe Pool Management, a company based in Loveland, Ohio.
A limit of 166 guests has been set for the pool and surrounding deck, and, based on occupancy limits and the city fire code, only 20 people total will be permitted to use both bathhouses at one time. A limited number of deck chairs will be placed in groups of two at a distance of eight to 10 feet apart, although larger family groups may be permitted to add chairs. The chairs will be sanitized after each use.
The pool area will receive a deep cleaning every two hours including contact areas on pool slides.
Plexiglas barriers have been placed between customers and indoor staff. Concession stand employees will also be separated from the public by Plexiglas and will wear masks and gloves; concession customers will be guided by Xs where to stand. All pool employees will have their temperatures taken daily.
“Under the guidelines we’re doing what we need to do. We shouldn’t have a problem,” Torbet said. “I’m doing this because I think this is what’s right for the city.”
Customers sitting along the deck space of the nearly 19,000 square foot pool area will be encouraged to wear masks but there’s no mandatory rule.
“I can’t require people to wear masks,” Torbet said. “We’re funded by taxpayers, so I have a difficult time telling a taxpayer that they have to wear a mask. I can strongly recommend them to, but it’s not like a private business.”
As for the pool itself, he added, “Are (swimmers) going to be closer than six feet? Probably. But we’re not going to have that many people in there at any one time. And if we start having a problem they’ll be asked to leave. This is just another rule they have to abide by.”
Torbet said on a typical day 60 to 100 people visit the city pool, and private party rentals have a limit of 125 participants. He said the pool can hold up to 158 people and still be considered safe under state COVID-19 restrictions.
The regulations, especially those of the bathhouses, may sometimes require patrons to wait outside for entrance.
Prior to the state’s easing of restrictions, which includes reopening public pools, Torbet had already decided to fill the city pool for the summer, if only for maintenance purposes.
“I was planning on having it up and operational just because of the newness of the pool, just so that things continue to work the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “As long as we’re going to have it filled and running and we can meet the requirements and the restrictions set by the state there’s really no reason not to have it open.”
Some area public pools will remain closed because the announcement that pools can open left communities expecting to keep them closed unprepared, Torbet said.
“If you’re already three to four weeks behind in getting your pool up and operational it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to only open it for a month and a half,” he said. “I made the commitment that we were going to have ours operational by June 1. When we got the news we could open we ramped it up a bit.”
Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said social distancing and chlorine in the pool water are positive steps toward protecting visitors’ health. She said the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the pool setting becomes serious if someone who has the virus but is not yet symptomatic shows up.
“The real risk is somebody with illness being at the pool,” Cupp said.
And while masks should be worn by everyone, that remains a personal decision, she said.
“The wearing of a mask, I think, is one of the most respectful things we can do for people we are around, because it does protect others from my coughs and sneezes,” Cupp said.
Torbet has no reservations about opening the pool, and believes the facilities will be safe.
“If this was a major hot spot, yeah, I’d have a little bit of concern. But Fulton County is not what I’d consider a hot spot,” he said. “If people follow the recommendations we can have a decent time without shutting everything down…We’re going to have to have everyone’s support to make this happen. If we start having a problem we can close the season early.“
Cupp said it’s possible for Wauseon to have a safe pool season with no consequences “but it really is up to each and every person that is at the pool. Everyone has to practice good hygiene, good safe distancing. We all have to really be prepared to take those steps to protect each other.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.