All round the world waterpark and swimming pool operators are reviewing guidelines to figure out how to safely go back into the water. There are many pool users who rely on water-based activities for exercise; those with limited mobility or difficulty with weight-bearing exercise will have really felt the restrictions imposed by lockdown and will have struggled to stay fit and active.
Naturally there is much discussion on the impact of COVID-19 and experts are working together on a multi-national level to ensure best practice so that when pools do re-open everything possible is being done to keep people safe. As a Director of the Pool Water Advisory Group (PWTAG) and a member of the IAKS Expert Circle on Swimming Pools, Tom Devin has brought his expertise to bear in supporting this discussion and guidance. “The re-opening of pools is not something that should be rushed - it’s imperative that operators are given comprehensive guidelines and that pool users take responsibility to adhere to the advice” said Tom.
Many pools have already opened in the United States and in Europe there is some concern that this may have happened too soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the Federal health protection agency in the USA and it has advised that provided it is managed properly in line with current guidelines the pool water should be safe i.e. free chlorine at a minimum of 1.0mg/l and pH 7.2 – 7.8. Sweden’s entire approach to COVID-19 has been under scrutiny for some time having its share of admirers and critics; they too have opened their public pools in line with the CDC advice. Their Scandinavian neighbour, Norway, is planning to open their public pools for organised swimming from June 15th. And there is a staggered approach across the rest of Europe with Austrian pools set to open on May 29th, Ireland on July 20th, and there is discussion that points to England’s pools opening in early July.
PWTAG is currently finalising Technical Note 45 which addresses managing pool water quality when re-opening pools. Within Europe there is much discussion on the minimum level of chlorine; a value of at least 1.5mg/l is being considered in order to provide a higher level of protection, with pH values ranging from 7.0 – 7.4. It’s hoped a consensus can be reached that can be rolled out across all countries.
Swim England is developing guidance in line with scientific research and information from the Government. Richard Lamburn, Head of Facilities, said “The science and understanding of Covid-19 in the swimming pool environment is evolving every day". Swim England is working hard to ensure that when lockdown is over there is quality information in place ready for operators to open their doors.
While the details are being worked through, what we can be certain of is that the sector will need to operate differently. The International Association for Sports & Leisure Facilities (IAKS) acknowledges that density of bathers in the pool is key to maintaining safety; Switzerland is suggesting 5 persons for two lanes whereas Australia is suggesting 1 person per lane. Water area per bather will be a key factor and numbers being discussed range from 6m2 - 15m2 per bather, to 30m2 for a family of three. Once the guidelines are in place operators will need to review how this is put in to practice and managed going forward.
Of course there are challenges ahead for this industry but advice is being sought from the highest level of scientific expertise to prepare stakeholders and ensure the provision of safe facilities and high water quality.