Municipal pools in Harvey County lost about three weeks of operation to COVID-19, though this week most have been able to reopen — with restrictions in place.
“As many pools have not opened for the summer due to COVID 19, we felt it was important to get it opened for the community,” said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. “We will continue to make sure that it is safe for each patron.”
The NRC operates the Newton Municipal Pool in Athletic Park. About 40 people are employed during the summer to operate the pool.
The pool, which opened June 15, has been busy from Day 1 thanks in part to temperatures headed to 90 degrees or higher — more than a week before the official start of summer.
“The first day was more than we expected. We were expecting the day to be slow but turned out to be a good day. It appears that everyone was ready to get out and come to the pool,” Bascue said.
Each year’s opening the Newton pool can be an adventure. Aging equipment spurred a discussion of pool renovations or replacement about four years ago, but no project moved forward.
“We had trouble getting the mechanical equipment working at first,” Bascue said. “We finally got everything up and going so that we can make sure that water is treated to maintain good quality water for the swimmers. If the system fails we will eventually need to close the pool. I am not sure how much longer the system will work.”
COVID-19 made opening the pool even more difficult this year.
For those wanting to take a dip, there are restrictions and new rules to consider.
“If you or a member of your family is sick, please don't enter the pool,” Bascue said. “We are asking everyone to continue to maintain 6-foot distancing.”
The NRC has hired extra staff to help pool users comply with social distancing guidlines, and it encourages parents to come with their children to help with compliance with social distancing and other guidelines.
The concession stand will only be selling a limited number of items to help reduce waiting lines, and mask usage is encouraged for anyone not in the water.
There are new procedures for staff as well.
“Staff will sanitize and clean more frequently,” Bascue said. “Staff when not on guard duty must wear masks, and staff must practice the 6-foot social distancing.”
THe Halstead municipal pool opened Monday with limitations on how many swimmers can be at the facility and a school district residency requirement.
The pool opened with two-hour time slots, reserved for USD 440 residents.
According to pool staff, there were about 40 patrons and five guards/managers working. Every 15 minutes, staff are disinfecting every hand rail and ladder, bath houses and any touchable area.
“That may be the most difficult because once you get finished you are basically starting back up again,” staff told The Newton Kansan via Facebook message.
Time slots are between noon and 5 p.m., followed by a shutdown hour to disinfect everything, and a session from 6 to 8 p.m.
The Hesston pool opened Monday with restrictions on who can swim there.
Currently only residents of the Hesston school district with a season pass are allowed, and they have to have signed up for a time slot.
“We are cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the summer,” said Skylar Hill, Hesston recreation aquatics/assistant director. “We are hoping to expand our guest list to beyond USD 460 patrons in the near future, but the board and I will be monitoring that week by week. Our patrons have done a great job of being patient and understanding throughout the process of our opening. If all goes well over the next couple of weeks we will open up to daily admissions and beyond our district residents.”
Staff are required to wear masks and gloves and complete a thorough hand washing when working the gate and concessions stand.
“This is one we have really tried to hammer home with our staff,” Hill said. “They are the backbone of us being operable this summer so they need to understand that keeping them safe and healthy is priority No. 1.”
In addition, the pool has begun to use new computer software, allowing staff to track who is in the pool and at what times.
“If there was an exposure at our facility we would be prepared to inform the correct people,” Hill said. “There is signage all over the pool in regards to our cleaning procedures that are done in various increments throughout the day.”
Every change, Hill said, has been made with public health safety in mind.
“I think one that that is truly important for the public to know is safety is our biggest concern,” Hill said. “Even though it feels as if the pandemic has subsided in many ways, we still are doing our due diligence in making sure our facilities are a safe place for patrons to use. We want everyone to have a great summer with plenty to do, but we also know that we have to do our part in ensuring we make decisions for the greater good.”
In Sedgwick the rules changed this week when the county health department and commission moved forward to phase out group size limitations.
“We plan to open the pool to the general public,” said Joseph Turner, Sedgwick city administrator. “We have only allowed those with a Sedgwick address to attend so far due to mass gathering restrictions and space limitations.”
When the pool opened, the facility used two separate three-hour blocks of time for swimmers.
“On certain days, there were more children lined up than could be permitted with the mass gathering restrictions — the pool was allowing in 40 children and had five staffers,” Turner said. “Considering all the factors at play this year, I think turnout and participation has been excellent.”
Each subgroup of swimmers (either individuals or families) were allotted an area on the deck that was marked for them and separated by a 6-foot buffer between the next. In between sessions, pool staff clean the facility with a disinfectant.