Instead of diving headlong into the summer pool season, several swimming facilities in the St. Louis area are merely dipping a toe and opening with extra restrictions because of the pandemic.
More still are sitting out entirely for Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally marks the opening of swimming pools in the region. And some pools could remain empty for the rest of the summer.
Preparing a pool to reopen often requires up to a month of work. But stay-at-home orders have prevented much of the cleaning, repainting and water treatments from getting done, according to pool operators in the area. Lifeguard trainings also have been delayed. Many pools haven’t announced even tentative dates for reopening.
Nearly 50 of the pools that Midwest Pool Management operates in the St. Louis area have delayed openings. The company manages public pools in Clayton, Manchester, Webster Groves and other municipalities.
Company vice-president Crissy Withrow said only 10 of its pools are reopening this weekend. Usually, all of its pools would be full by Memorial Day.
Withrow said vague guidelines from state and county leaders about how to reopen safely have prevented most pools from setting a firm reopening date.
“Without having a firm guideline, you can only go off of suggestions and best practices,” Withrow said.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page plans to release guidelines for swimming facilities to reopen by June 15. He hasn’t said when those would be made public. For now, neighborhood and other public pools in the county must remain closed this weekend.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s economic reopening plan website includes a single line about pools, stating they should “open if they adhere to strict social distancing and sanitation protocols.”
This guidance has led to confusion for St. Louis-area pool operators.
“I wish we had more answers, but we’re kind of at the mercy of St. Louis County to give us guidance,” said Bob Hupfeld, a trustee for Summer Chase, a neighborhood pool in Fenton.
Public pools in St. Louis will remain closed without a reopening date, but privately operated ones in the city can open.
Testing the waters
Not all pools in the region will be closed this weekend.
St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties have no restrictions on pools reopening besides Parson’s statewide guideline.
St. Charles’ Wapelhorst Aquatic Center is one of the few public pools reopening Memorial Day weekend. The city’s biggest public pool, will open Saturday at 25% capacity, allowing 200 visitors in at a time.
St. Charles Director of Parks and Recreation Maralee Britton said people will not be required to wear masks at the pool, but they are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and keep safe social distancing from other guests.
Britton said the city wants to “make sure and accommodate folks safely to be able to come and enjoy the beginning of summer and what they can salvage so far of 2020.”
Only St. Charles residents or returning season pass holders will be admitted to the pool this weekend. But that hasn’t stopped people from over an hour away calling to see if the pool will allow non-residents in, Britton said.
If the opening goes well, Britton said the pool plans to loosen crowd limits in the weeks ahead. Around 135,000 people pass through the aquatic center’s gates annually, according to Britton.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say there is no evidence the coronavirus can be spread through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper levels of chlorine and other chemicals should kill the virus in the water, according to the CDC.
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