County pools set to reopen with a modified schedule

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A lifeguard talks to swimmers at the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center in 2019.

As the County of Hawaii continues to make progress toward opening up community recreational facilities in phases, some good news came last week for those interested in getting back to swimming at the Kona Community Aquatic Center (KCAC).

According to Mayor Harry Kim’s COVID-19 Emergency Rule No. 9 issued on June 26, under Exhibit 2 pertaining to County Parks and Recreational Facilities states, “Swimming pools may reopen on or after Monday, July 13, 2020, with modified days/hours of operations and modified rules in effect as established by the Director.”

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While all County pools will reopen on or after Monday, July 13th, no specific days or operational hours were explained in the Mayor’s Rule No. 9, nor were any details provided about social distancing guidelines while swimming.

This led to many in the community, who have not been able to utilize the Kona Pool facilities since mid-March, wondering how the pool plans to reopen come July 13th.

I reached out to Alejandra Flores-Morikami on Wednesday, the Recreation Specialist I for the County of Hawaii Aquatics Division, who was able to provide more clarity on the reopening of Big Island County pools.

What will be the new protocols in place for County swimming pools?

We are going to have dramatically different procedures. For KCAC, we are going to have them start on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Because we still have Summer Fun going to the pools, for the first two weeks we are going to have (Summer Fun) go on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For the Monday-Wednesday-Fridays, we are going to have four 45-minute swim blocks or sessions. The first one will be at 9 AM, the second one is at 11 AM, and then at 1 PM and 3 PM.

When you say 45-minute block or sessions, how many people will be able to swim during that 45-minutes?

We are assigning every other lane for lap swimming only. I believe that will be 10 people. So, all the lanes will be in place and we will be having swimmers in every other lane. There will be only one swimmer per lane.

With each 45-minute session beginning at 9 AM, 11 AM, 1PM and 3PM, what happens in between from 9:45 AM till 11 AM?

They will be disinfecting from top to bottom. The pool is always chlorinated but it will be everything else: the handrails going into the pool, and the ladders. We will be using rubbing alcohol because it evaporates quickly and kills on contact.

What will be the protocol for swimmers?

When we open (at 9 AM), people will need to come dressed and ready to get in the water with a face mask on. But we also anticipate them to have stuff to put down so there will be a chair for every lane for the person to put down their face mask, their towel, their car keys – all of that. We will all need to shower before entering the pool, and those areas will also need to be disinfected. Unfortunately, one of the new procedures is our locker room and changing area will be closed, so you won’t be able to change in the facility.

Will people be allowed to sit and wait on the bleachers?

There will be no spectators (allowed) but we will permit someone if they are a caregiver, but otherwise, no.

What about the bathroom areas?

We are hoping to minimize the availability of all the stalls, again for disinfection reasons. There are a few factors in play here – personnel availability and disinfection supply availability.

We have one custodian at the facility, but mostly it will be personnel because our custodian is mainly in charge of the pump room. But (disinfecting) will be in conjunction with all of our personnel there.

There are many who are part of organized groups – senior water aerobics, high school, Masters and Age-group sessions. When will they be able to return?

We don’t have any plans to resume programing at this time. What we are hoping to do is open on a very limited basis, evaluate, change, and then expand as possible. Organized group swimming (like Masters, Age Groups and High School swim practices) will not be part of the July 13 opening.

This is what has been presented to our administration, and I believe the rules will be out before the 13, but I’m not positive when or how. We are in the process of getting signage for all of our facilities so the public is aware of what’s happening.

This (plan for reopening) is pretty set, I just don’t know when the public will be notified of all our rules. The biggest hurdle I’m facing as far as figuring everything out, is previously, a lot of our programs like swim teams, they would use public time, and that was fine when you could put 10 swimmers in a lane.

However, now that we have extremely limited availability to the public and our social distancing policies, it is very difficult to accommodate all the teams, at all our pools, while also needing to accommodate our public. This is a big hurdle that we have yet to figure out. So a soft opening, evaluate, make changes as necessary, as the goal is to expand services as possible.

USA Swimming has issued specific guidelines on how to proceed with social distancing. Will you be following USA swimming guidelines once group sessions are allowed to return?

I’m not really sure what we will be following. To make the proposal that I did, I followed the American Red Cross guidelines as well as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I work with my counterparts across the State as well – the City and County of Honolulu and the County of Maui – so this is something that we all worked together on.

There are standard sizes of lane line width, some are barely six feet. Some newer pools are seven feet. But we have to make policies and procedures that cover all of our pools across the island.

Trying to ensure safety for our community is important, but I feel that if we can start slow, navigate the challenges, and expand once we evaluate what’s working and what’s not, I think that’s safer than opening it all and then having to restrict on the back end. I think that would be safer for everyone.

Anything else you would like to add?

We are really looking forward to being able to offer services, and we wish the pandemic never happened. But we really are going to have to rely on the public’s patience and understanding as we transition back into operation. We want to serve our community, but we also want to ensure safety as that is our job and also something we are passionate about.

Some new County Pool procedures to keep in mind

•Will open on a first come, first served basis.

•Locker rooms will be off-limits; swimmers must come fully ready to swim and leave immediately after swimming.

•No recreational swim will be available; only lap swimming will be available.

•No spectators will be allowed within the facility.

•Swimmers will be assigned to every other lane, so extremely limited availability.

•Temperature checks will be administered at the gate.

•Will expand services as possible.

County pool days and hours starting July 13th:

•Mondays,Wednesdays, Fridays

•(4) Sessions: 9 – 9:45 AM, 11 – 11:45 AM, 1 – 1:45 PM, 3 – 3:45 PM

•Session Duration: 45-minutes

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• No. of swimmers per lane: 1

•Note: The County Aquatic’s Division will issue a media release with each pool’s final schedule

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