Community swimming pools are one of the most popular destination points during the summer, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may force those facilities to delay opening or close completely for the season.
Rocky Reents, public health coordinator for Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health, said those discussions have begun to take place with Hardin County mayors.
The subject was broached during an emergency operations meeting held Monday morning. Reents said all town mayors met via video conferencing, and the session was also attended by Hardin County Sheriff Dave McDaniel, Hardin County Supervisor Renee McClellan and Emergency Management Coordinator Thomas Craighton.
"We wanted to try to get all of the mayors together to see what their thoughts were on pool openings and festival events in their respective towns," Reents said. "From a public health perspective, we were waiting for word from the governor on how to proceed, but she has not touched on that topic much at all."
Most area pools open in late May or the first of June. As of Tuesday, only Alden had announced that it was pushing back its pool opening date, which had been scheduled for June 1.
Alden Mayor Jeff Fiscus said he's not sure the pool will open at all this summer due to the spread of COVID-19. There is also the issue of employing a lifeguard staff, the majority of them high school students.
"We are not sure even if we decided to open the pool in July, there would even be a staff available. Many of the kids won't want to wait around half of their summer. I would think they would look for other employment options," Fiscus said.
Right now, town festivals in Hubbard and Alden have been canceled for 2020, but New Providence will continue with plans to host its annual Heritage Festival next month with a limited schedule. Other festivals - Iowa Falls' Riverbend Rally and Eldora's Pine Lake Festival have a little more time to assess their options because their festivals aren't scheduled to happen until July.
Hubbard Mayor Marshall Simmerman said the Hubbard City Council is scheduled to discuss the topic of the pool at its meeting on May 11.
"I don't have an idea of how the council will go on that issue, but personally, I would lean toward not opening, but that's not my decision," he said. "I will go with whatever the council wants to decide."
While Iowa Falls Mayor Gene Newgaard wouldn't say whether the city's Meyer Municipal Aquatic Center will be closed for the summer, he did say that it's at least not likely to open on time.
"As far as the pool goes, we haven't made a definite decision as to whether we won't open or will open," Newgaard said. "We might open it for a shortened season, but I can say with certainty it won't be open for the normal amount of time."
Iowa Falls Chamber/Main Street Director Diana Thies said her board of directors is scheduled to meet May 13, and she's hopeful the status of Riverbend Rally will be discussed.
"Whether the board makes a decision on that day, I don't know. But we need to because I need to move forward with plans and what is going to happen," Thies said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds."
However, Reents said being in close proximity to others at the pool is a safety concern. That includes high-touch surfaces such as lockers, railings and chairs that are frequently shared by pool visitors.
City staff will still be filling their pools with water despite the closures. Andy Jass, Alden's Public Works employee, said they need at least 10 to 14 days’ notice to get the pool ready to go. That includes making sure the water maintains a certain temperature and that all chemicals used are working properly. The most important reason to fill the pool with water is to make sure all systems are working properly.
"We wouldn't want to go nearly two years without using the equipment. That's when things tend to break down," Jass said. "We've got some new equipment to try out, but the plan is to use the minimum amount of chlorine possible so the pool water will not turn green. Since we are closed right now, we won't use all of the chemicals we normally would."
Reents said from a public health perspective, pools are often a place where people congregate. The same thing can be said about town festivals. Is the risk worth the reward? That's something communities will have to consider.
"If you limit the amount of people coming in, that is one option," Reents said, "but these pools are not really big money makers for any of the communities, so limiting the number of people, that's just money lost."