Washington Pools to Reopen Immediately after Change in Policy

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Three weeks ago, when David Orr and other swimming stakeholders in the state of Washington launched a petition to reopen swimming pools, they faced a long road. According to Gov. Jay Inslee’s original “Safe Start Washington” plan, pools wouldn’t have opened until Phase 3.

But that changed Wednesday. And even with King County, the county containing Seattle, still in a modified Phase 1 of coronavirus recovery, pools are able to open in the state, effective immediately.

Inslee’s office posted guidance Wednesday allowing pools to open at 25 percent capacity. The plan sounds a lot like what stakeholders, led by the Pacific Northwest Swimming LSC, had hoped for and had told Inslee they were capable of, arguing in the name of safety and fitness that they could open safely much earlier than Phase 3. The order applies for indoor and outdoor facilities.

The timing of the opening caught Orr, who learned of it in a call with the governor’s office this week, by surprise, even as he’s been in regular contact with them.

“They were like, ‘you can open them up,’” Orr, the executive director and head coach at Cascade Swim Club. “And I said, ‘terrific. That timing works great for us.’”

The original plan by Inslee had called for pools to open at less than 50 percent capacity in Phase 3. But the petitioners argued that opening at a smaller capacity would allow them to ease into opening. Especially for outdoor pools in the summer, where risk of COVID-19 transmission is particularly low, it would be a chance to familiarize themselves with new procedures that could be extrapolated to larger openings.

“Us being able to open at 25 percent capacity is great,” Milorad Cavic, the head coach of KING Aquatic Club, said. “I’m sure everyone is connecting with their pool directors to see when they can get in and everyone has a plan. These plans are similar to what we’re seeing all across the country. Our goal is to get back in the water as soon as Friday.”

Orr was at the forefront of the coalition to open pools. Given the danger of swimming in Washington’s copious open-water bodies, swim coaches argued that getting swimmers into the controlled environments of pools sooner rather than later would save lives.

Orr has been in regular contact with Jon Snyder, Gov. Inslee’s Senior Policy Advisor on Outdoor Recreation & Economic Development. He was hopeful about the direction that the reopening conversation was trending in, and Wednesday’s announcement is proof of that give and take.

“We were all optimistic that our voices were being heard and I knew they were working on it,” Orr said. “I had every confidence in the world that they were, and our conversations reflected that.”

The guidance applies for Modified Phase 1 and includes “staffed water recreation facilities (public and private)” with miniature and putt-putt golf. The requirements, Orr said, don’t include county-by-county signoff on plans or any formal submission for approval, but it is subject to more than 40 conditions that every club must adhere to. Every facility must have a unique operation plan available for posting and inspection.

The orders also, Orr is careful to point out, don’t compel any club to open, and indeed clubs both private and public will likely remain closed even with the go-ahead to operate. Cascade is already braced for the possibility that some of the public pools it usually swims at will not open.

Among the requirements are:

  • Small-group classes of five or fewer (for learn-to-swim, scuba, etc.)
  • 25 percent capacity in facilities
  • Six-foot physical distancing in water, decks and any other spaces
  • Enhance sanitizing of surfaces and bathrooms, changing rooms, etc. as well as more hand-sanitizing stations
  • Signage to inform about new procedures and discourage grouping
  • Training for instructors and coaches specific to COVID-19
  • Screening such as temperature checks is not required but may be implemented (KING will be utilizing this, Cavic said)
  • Clients must sign waivers consenting to the facility’s reopening policies
  • Scheduling of usage ahead of time is encouraged

The entire list is available here. Many of the conditions are ones that clubs have been voicing proactively, and the Washington guidelines cite USA Swimming’s guidance on proper techniques in the water.

Getting back in the pool has always been about safety. So it follows logically that the steps to get there put safety at the center.

“I think everything we’re doing in the PNS is to implement precautions and make sure people feel safe,” Cavic said. “It’s going to be a slow return and because summer meets are cancelled, we really have five and a half to six months to get ready for our next meet. That is exciting that we can afford to do this the right way and be really, really responsible in getting back into shape.”

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23 comments

    • Jennifer Rinesmith

      Irene Barber Kinsey yep. The ENTIRE country will be back in the water before us. And in the scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad here in STL compared to many places. It makes no logical sense why the kids here are being kept out so long.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        I don’t know how long you have been out, but we have been out since March 15 😳

      • avatar
        MMA

        I don’t know how long you have been shut down, but WA has been shut down except for essential workers since March 15…no schools, no pools, no gyms 😳

      • avatar
        Becky Mcginnis

        Please let this be true🙏🏻🙏🏻

    • Danny Gassaway

      Susanne Droppelmann Rothery To me, it’s 12 weeks of training plus a taper when in competition shape. There is no need to be doing a meet right now.

    • Danny Gassaway yes agree. I was just inferring that they are all out of shape and it will take a long while to get back

    • Danny Gassaway

      Susanne Droppelmann Rothery I was just going on hearing how so many want to swim a meet. Way too early

  1. avatar
    Mannette Sanchez

    ❤️ Awesome News!

  2. avatar
    Jennifer Weddle

    Can you post a link to this guidance from the governor’s office?

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