The majority of aquatic managers in Quebec say they’ll be ready to safely open this summer if public health gives them the green light, according to the results of a recent survey.
“We want to find a way to make sure summer feels like summer this year,” said Lucie Roy, the president of the Association des responsables aquatiques du Québec, which manages public swimming areas in the province.
The association recently conducted a poll of 224 of its members, which include various cities, towns and schools with pools, across 109 municipalities and found 73 per cent feel positive they will be able to open their public pools and beaches this summer.
Roy says many managers are still targeting their regular window of the week of June 24 to July 1.
But even if public health gives the green light for community pools and beaches to open, the final decision will ultimately fall to each individual municipality, school board or manager, Roy said, because they are footing the bill and are the ones who need to justify the operational costs.
It’s estimated that opening with limited access to adhere to new physical-distancing guidelines would reduce the number of people in the water by 70 per cent.
And still, the poll found the main concern among managers is how they will operate their facilities safely.
Roy says the ARAQ is currently working on a three-phase plan.
Phase one includes opening up the sites so a small number of employees can prepare them. Phase two would be teaching staff how to execute their jobs while respecting new physical-distancing guidelines. Phase three would be the opening up to the public for aqua activities without contact.
Roy says the time frame needed to open an outdoor pool is around three to four weeks.
What the science says
Microbiologist and public health consultant Vicky Huppé says the risk for transmitting COVID-19 through water is relatively low, and adding chlorine to the water reduces the risk even further.
She says the biggest risk at a public swimming area won’t come from the water, but rather from contact with other swimmers. Practising physical distancing while in the water should limit the risk of transmission in the same way it does on dry land.
As for beaches, Huppé said more studies are needed before she can draw any firm conclusions.
But she feels that even if a person diagnosed with COVID-19 were to take a swim and secrete the virus through their skin into the water, the risk of transmission would be low because the virus would be diluted into such a large volume of water.
Good news for athletes, bad news for young kids?
The CEO of Sport Québec, Alain Deschamps says this all adds up to good news for athletes who use pools for training.
“So far, the municipalities are telling us that it should be OK [to swim]. The issue is, how do you put your bathing suit on? Do you have access to the lockers, toilets and whatnot?” said Deschamps.
Deschamps believes creating a safe area to change and shower is doable but the outlook is not so positive, however, for children who want to use the pools just for fun.
“That’s going to be a big, big issue.”
Deschamps said it will be tougher to enforce physical-distancing rules in areas specifically for kids, therefore many municipalities don’t think those zones can be opened up safely.
He says parents should expect kid-friendly play areas to be shuttered all summer long.