After months of social distancing and quarantining related to COVID-19, it is imperative that community associations look to the months ahead and prepare accordingly. Summer is right around the corner and many parents will be eager for the school year to be over and their feeble attempts at home schooling to be a thing of the past. It stands to reason that the community pool will be a popular destination for many of these families looking to leave the all too familiar confines of their homes and enjoy the outdoors. Associations should evaluate and assess what processes, protocols and procedures should be employed, when reopening the pool, to reduce the spread of the virus. For purposes of this article, “community pool” shall reference property owners association pools and condominium pools.
On April 27, 2020, Governor Abbott signed Executive Order No. GA-18 (the “Order”) relating to the expanded reopening of services to Open Texas. The Order remains in effect until May 15, 2020. While the Order primarily addresses commercial and retail businesses, it specifically states that people shall avoid visiting “public” swimming pools. Pursuant to Chapter 265 of the Texas Administrative Code, property owners association pools and condominium pools are classified as public swimming pools. As such, the Order is applicable to community pools. Accordingly, despite the stay at home order not being extended, associations are encouraged not to be hasty and rush to open their pools as soon as the stay at home order expires for the reasons set forth below.
Given the express language in the Order, community pools are to remain closed until at least May 15th. For community pools with lifeguards, associations should be aware that pool companies have been substantially impacted by Covid-19. Most pool companies have likely been unable to properly recruit, train and certify new lifeguards to work at the pools. Furthermore, most lifeguards are typically 15-17 years old. Given the probability of physical touching and/or mouth to mouth resuscitation, it is likely that some parents will not allow their children to work as a lifeguard this year. Associations should be aware that even if an association desired to open the pool immediately after the Order expires, the likely scenario is that the pool company will be unable to meet the deadline for the logistical reasons set forth above. The pool companies will need an adequate amount of time to ensure their staff is trained and fully staffed to provide the pool patrons with proper protection and services. Associations are encouraged to communicate with their pool company to discuss these issues to determine a feasible opening date after May 15th. For Swim At Your Own Risk (“SAYOR”) pools, in order to comply with the directive in the Order to not visit public swimming pools, SAYOR pools are also to remain closed until at least May 15th.
One of the top priorities to address when reopening the pool is to formulate a plan pertaining to the cleaning and disinfection of the pool on an ongoing basis. In addition to the usual suspects (i.e., 6ft social distancing, 20 second handwashing, groups of 10 or less, etc.) associations are recommended to implement more stringent cleaning regimes and requirements to promote cleanliness and reduce the potential spread of the virus. According to the CDC, chlorine is effective in ensuring the pool water is disinfected; however, there are a myriad of other items and surfaces at a pool that should be cleaned regularly. For example: pool furniture, door handles, pool ladders, water fountains, restroom facilities, diving boards, etc. are all examples of items that will require disinfection multiple times throughout the day. For pools with lifeguards and/or pool staff, it is suggested that various times are allotted/designated throughout the day to perform disinfection of these surfaces. For SAYOR pools where there is no pool staff, hand sanitization stations and cleaning supplies (if available) should be made available to the patrons.
Signage should also be posted at the pools advising patrons to use proper hygiene and cleaning techniques while visiting the pool. Additionally, associations should consider other steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19. By way of example, an association could remove all pool furniture (chairs, tables, etc.) and patrons could be required to bring their owner pool furniture to the pool. Group games such as water polo, water volleyball, etc. should be prohibited. An association should also consider limiting the number of patrons permitted to use the pool at any given time and limiting the duration of use for patrons. In order to implement this limitation aspect, an association could use pool/gate monitors. Pool/gate monitors can check ID’s and keep track of the number of patrons using the pool at any given time in addition to assisting with performing cleaning/disinfection of the pool during designated cleaning times throughout the day. Lastly, it is suggested that associations require pool patrons to execute a waiver/release prior to using the pool facility. Slowly but surely life will return to normal, in the meantime, associations should continue to stay vigilant while adapting to a post-pandemic world.