Cities are trying to retain a sense of normalcy this summer amid the many restrictions the coronavirus has brought onto Walla Walla and Umatilla counties by working through state health guidelines to open public pools this summer.
The cities of Walla Walla, Prescott and Milton-Freewater plan on opening city pools to some degree this season. Patrons of Athena’s pool have already dipped their toes in with an opening about two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, in Waitsburg and Dayton city pools will remain closed this year.
While Walla Walla County awaits approval for a modified Phase 3 upgrade, summertime is warming up with questions around where people can beat the heat at a community pool.
Washington’s Phase 3 allows pools at less than half capacity. The modified request made by Walla Walla County would limit group gatherings to no more than 25 people, rather than the 50 allowed in Phase 3 and limit to only essential trips, rather than the nonessential travel that Phase 3 allows.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, pool operators must follow capacity guidelines that account for social distancing and frequent sanitation measures.
The modified phase would allow 19 guests at the splash pad and 68 in the large pool, according to a Friday video update from Morgan Rauch, recreation coordinator for Veterans Memorial Pool. Another 120 people could be on deck with spacing measures for sunbathing and relaxation.
Diehards can reserve lap swim times, in the meantime. The Parks & Recreation Department today has begun lap lane reservations for 45-minute sessions with one swimmer per lane.
Visitors for those sessions, as well as the pool when it opens, are asked to limit their locker room use by arriving and leaving already dressed to swim, Rauch said in the video.
The pool operation isn’t the only aspect that will look different. Lifeguards and all staff will be required to wear masks in compliance with state guidelines. Those who use the pool are encouraged to bring their own masks but keep them in plastic bags during times in the water.
The pool must remain under 50% of capacity in a full Phase 3, Rauch emphasized in a recent interview.
“It’s all based on how many people you could feasibly have socially distanced in the water, not necessarily the facility as a whole, so that number is up in the air,” she said.
Three open swim sessions will be available per day. When approval comes, the pool will be open 1-3 p.m., 3:30-5:30 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
For each session, there will be a socially distanced line out front. Capacity numbers will be taken upon entrance so people can call ahead to see where they are at for a certain session. In between each session, staff will be cleaning all high touch areas and any equipment that may have been used, Rauch said.
Some attractions like slides will be closed for Phase 3 as a precautionary measure but may be reopened later in the summer.
“Hopefully we can bring back some of those more fun play features but as of now we are just excited to get people in the water at whatever capacity we can,” Rauch said.
Swim classes will be available later in July.
“More than likely those are going to be with instructors out of the water for their own safety and asking for parents or guardians to be involved for the younger groups while they’re in the water,” she said.
Pool passes will be discounted this year from last. For an individual youth, veteran or senior pass it will cost $65, adult passes are $75 and family passes are $160.
“This year we halted the pool pass pricing in March so it will be at a discounted rate,” Rauch said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t burdening local families with extra pricing at a time where there was a global pandemic happening.”
Day entry passes will honor entry for coming back later with a wristband since session times are limited.
“Even if the pool is taking a loss I believe that it’s a better service to the community to be able to open in some fashion and so that’s why we wanted to make sure that we were able to be a little bit of that staple in the community that we usually are,” she said.
“New guidelines are being released weekly and if not daily and we will do our best to keep everyone safe, but I think patience is going to be key this summer,” she said.
Anyone can use the pool from other cities as the Veterans Memorial Pool has no restrictions on who can visit, she said.
Prescott Pool Manager Kyra Hartley had hoped to be open by July 15. The date is set depending on when Walla Walla County moves into Phase 3 and when the pool paint is dry.
Operators are planning a fresh coat on the main pool and baby pool this year and have to wait two weeks for the paint to dry before the pool can be filled with water.
Hartley said capacity restrictions may not be an issue for Prescott which doesn’t typically draw 50 people. However, Waitsburg and Dayton residents may flock to Prescott’s pool without their own spots.
Prescott has been a destination over the last couple of years for Dayton water-lovers as plans and fundraising for that community’s replacement pool continue to unfold.
With a decision not to open Waitsburg’s pool, demand could grow. Should Prescott’s pool have more than 50 guests, a line will start for incoming swimmers to get their turn.
“One day a week will be Prescott day for the Prescott people, who pay taxes on the pool, (to) get their own private full day each week,” Hartley said.
Swim lesson sessions will be offered five days a week for two weeks as 30-minute sessions. For people outside of the Prescott district, the lesson package costs $45 and will begin when the pool opens. They are only waiting for Phase 3 to accept sign-ups for the lessons.
Water aerobics and lap swimming are offered on top of open swim. No scheduling is official but the pool will be open seven days a week.
“We are really excited to open,” the pool manager said. “We got a big grant this year for swim instruction so we have a lot of new swim lesson aids, little stands for the kids to stand on so they don’t have to sit on the side of the pool, new fins, kickboards, noodles. So we have lots of new equipment for this year.”
Milton-Freewater’s much anticipated opening has been pushed back until at least July 11, City Manager Linda Hall said. Daily capacity when it does open will be limited to 100 people.
“We wanted Walla Walla and Pendleton to both open their pools to control the numbers,” thus taking some pressure off the Milton-Freewater pool, she said.
Real control, though, will come from state and county public health officials in deciding if Umatilla County can stay in Phase 2, Hall said in recent weeks.
If Umatilla County regresses to Phase 1 due to rising virus numbers it will mean closing the aquatic center, Hall said.
Athena city officials said its public pool began its regular schedule of Monday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m.
There will be lots of rules to follow, city recorder Michelle Fox said, noting only an outdoor shower will be available and the bath house — built two years ago — will stay closed to the public.
The city plans to offer two sessions of swim lessons and water aerobic classes, Fox said.
A 50-person maximum is set by the state’s square-foot-per-person guidelines for Phase 2.