CHARLOTTE – Summer is just around the corner, but the question remains: how and when will pools open?
Phase One of Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-part plan to reopen North Carolina amid COVID-19 contains a provision that keeps swimming pools closed until at least May 22. Aside from that, there’s been little to no guidance from the state as to what happens next.
Even Jeff Gaeckle, president of Carolina Pool Management, feels like he’s out of the loop. His company runs 160 pools in the Charlotte region, from homeowner association to private membership pools, country club pools, and the pool at Queens University of Charlotte.
Carolina Pool Management handles lifeguard staffing and management; pool and facility cleaning; inspections and onsite visits; and water quality and chemistry for these clients.
Gaeckle said he’s under the impression pools can open once the state enters Phase Two, but he hasn’t received any direction on capacity, cleaning or how to operate them.
“It’s a challenging place to be right now because we don’t have specific guidance on certain aspects that are very important to the communities,” he said.
According to the CDC, “There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.”
The water may be safe, but the state has yet to give any direction on how the owners of pool facilities should handle social distancing and the spread of germs on high-touch surfaces like lounge chairs and bathrooms.
On May 11, the Weekly emailed a list of questions related to the opening of pools to the governor’s press office.
Communication Manager Kelly Haight Connor responded with a link to a N.C. Department of Health & Human Services website. The page included Gov. Cooper’s executive order, frequently asked questions about the order, a chart titled “What Phase One Means for North Carolina” and other materials for businesses.
There was no information on the website about opening pools.
While companies like Carolina Pool Management wait for guidance from the state, so does Mecklenburg County.
A spokesperson from the Mecklenburg County Public Health Department said in an email that the county anticipates more information and next steps from the state before the end of Phase One. When that happens, an official opening date and guidelines for pools will be shared on the county’s public health website.
“In the meantime, the county is continuing to perform pool inspections by appointment with social distancing measures in place,” the spokesperson said.
A call to the Union County Coronavirus Hotline confirmed Union County is also waiting on information from the state about pools.
When guidelines from the state are eventually released, Gaeckle hopes the responsibility to enforce them doesn’t fall solely on the lifeguards. He thinks it should be a cooperative effort between the owner of the pool and the pool management company.
“Lifeguards have to watch the pool,” Gaeckle said. “They can’t be in a position to enforce social distancing. That’s a distraction to the lifeguarding component.”
“They don’t have time to clean every lounge chair every time someone gets up,” he added.
There’s also just not enough staff to handle extra tasks.
Gaeckle said lifeguards usually train for their American Red Cross certification between March and June, but pools have either been closed or class sizes have been reduced to comply with state and local orders.
“There’s a significant shortage of certified lifeguards at this point in the community as a whole,” he said.
Regardless of how difficult it may be to manage the pools this year, Gaeckle said it’s important that they open. It’s just not clear right now, or at any level, how and when that will be.
“It’s up in the air at this point,” Gaeckle said. “There’s a lot of gray to be determined.”