A new year is here! We can all finally move past 2020. Even though COVID-19 is still at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we are hopeful for the new year ahead and what will be the beginning of a “new normal.” But before we look too far into the future, we are still managing the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that come with it. This article will focus on where the state and local restrictions are today for pools, gyms and other services affecting your community.
But first, a quick note about vaccinations. While the administration of COVID-19 vaccines is an exciting development, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) recommends that people who have received a COVID-19 vaccination continue to take the same precautions as those who remain unvaccinated. Essentially, everyone should continue to practice social distancing and should wear face coverings whenever they may come into close contact with someone from outside of their household. Therefore, the precautions addressed below will not change based on whether someone has or has not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
For many associations, the restrictions on pools may not be a concern as we head into the “cold” Texas winter, when pools are frequently closed. But communities with pools that remain open year-round will need to stay up to date on the relevant restrictions as we move into the new year. Currently, pools remain restricted to fifty percent (50%) capacity, per Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-26. Further, everyone in the pool area should be wearing a face covering unless they are in the water or actively engaged in exercise. People visiting the pool should maintain social distancing, keeping at least six feet (6’) away from anyone outside of their household.
Associations who are unsure of the normal capacity of their swimming pool should seek a determination from their pool company. Associations should have readily visible signage advising of the maximum number of individuals allowed in the pool area and, if there is a chance that the maximum allowable capacity will be exceeded, consider using a pool monitor.
If past years are any indication, we will see an increase in gym attendance after the first of the year as people carry out their resolutions to exercise more. Currently, gyms are limited to seventy-five percent (75%) of the facility’s maximum listed occupancy, per Executive Order GA-30. However, Executive Order GA-32 states that, in areas of high hospitalization, any business establishment that would otherwise have an operating limit of seventy-five percent (75%) capacity must operate at fifty percent (50%) capacity instead. Governor Abbott defines “areas with high hospitalization” as a trauma service area that has had seven consecutive days of over fifteen percent (15%) of patient hospital capacity due to COVID-19. To find a list of those counties, please reference the Texas Department of State Health Services’ website.
Governor Abbott’s “checklist” for gym operators further provides that the operator of the gym is required to provide cleaning supplies so users can sanitize equipment before and after use. Anyone not engaged in active exercise is required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth and everyone should practice social distancing.
Currently, there are no governmental restrictions on playgrounds in Texas. However, throughout the pandemic, the CDC has recommended that individuals give strong consideration to the risks before visiting playgrounds. These spaces are the least likely to be actively monitored and they are used almost exclusively by children who are unlikely to fully understand or adhere to social distancing requirements. Therefore, the safest approach is to keep playgrounds closed.
If your playgrounds are open, it is recommended that high-touch surfaces (plastic or metal) be cleaned routinely with soap and water. Signage should advise any visitors to the playground that use of the playground is “at their own risk.”
Tennis, Basketball, and Pickleball Courts
As people have begun looking to the outdoors as a relatively low risk change of scenery, use of community tennis, basketball and pickle ball courts has increased. While tennis and pickleball can be played with adequate distance between players, basketball is a high-contact sport by nature, meaning it may be safest to leave basketball courts closed until such time that social distancing is no longer required. If your community has any of these facilities open for use, you should continue to routinely clean and disinfect all high-traffic surfaces. Users should be encouraged to sanitize surfaces before and after use and capacity should be limited to allow proper social distancing. Anyone not actively engaged in exercise is required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth.
The beginning of the new year is a good time to review the policies and procedures you have put in place to address COVID-19. These procedures include not only the capacity limitations and social distancing requirements, but internal processes for disinfecting high-traffic surfaces and monitoring for compliance. For all amenities subject to limitations on capacity, associations should consider adopting a reservation system to help ensure compliance. Further, associations should work with legal counsel to review signage for compliance and to create a waiver/release to help reduce the association’s liability exposure.