With LA Beaches Closed, Public Pools May Be Open, But With New Restrictions

Nathaniel Berenstein uses an improvised shower before swimming at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in June 2020. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

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As the holiday weekend heats up, you're likely desperate for a nice cool swim at your local public pool, or maybe to lay out in the sun for a while since the beaches are closed. But if you can find a public pool that's open, expect extensive new rules to keep people separated and safe from contracting the coronavirus.

It makes for an experience that is very different from your pool visit before the pandemic. Sterile, even.

Los Angeles County ordered public pools closed on March 15 and lifted that order June 12. But the reopenings of pools at city and county parks, at campgrounds and schools come with a lot of rules.

For starters, pool operators need to keep everybody far apart, at least 6 feet. So forget about any horseplay where kids pile on each other, play Marco Polo or piggypack duels. (Yes, I was big into this when I was a kid.) The pool could lose its permit to remain open if kids or adults are engaging in unnecessary physical contact.

All public pools have to cut their maximum occupancy by half. To achieve that, some pools are keeping lap swimmers to one person per lane if they are not a family group. And some pools now require advance reservations with strict schedules to arrive and leave.

For swim teams, a number of swimmers following the same workout often share the same lane. To comply with the new rules, coaches are putting fewer swimmers in each lane and asking them to stay apart, even if it means treading water 6 or 12 feet away from the wall while at rest, rather than holding onto the gutter.

Rose Bowl Aquatics Center coach Chad Durieux directs swimmers who are treading water in their lanes to maintain social distance. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

The new rules also require frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces like door handles and pool railings, deck lounge chairs, and also shared pool training gear. To reduce the amount of cleaning, some pools have simply removed shared items like kickboards and pool noodles.

HOW ONE BIG POOL IS MANAGING DURING THE PANDEMIC

The Rose Bowl Aquatics Center re-opened this week (June 29) after a coronavirus precautionary closure of 105 days. And now it's following an extensive new set of safety rules. The result — like most re-opened public pools in Los Angeles County — is a quieter pool with fewer people.

Before, the two Olympic-size pools were a watery hive of activity with thousands of swimmers coming each week. The warmer recreation pool could host, at any one time, seniors doing water aerobics to oldies rock in the shallow end, kids taking swim lessons, adults doing lap swims and divers taking spectacular leaps from the diving tower into the deep end.

At the same time, the cooler competition pool could have hundreds of swim team kids and the older, Masters swimmers. People recovering from hip replacements or dealing with arthritic joints could be getting flexibility coaching in the 90-degree therapy pool. And there was often a small crowd packed into the even hotter jacuzzi.

All that is changed now.


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Since the pool had to cut its maximum occupancy by half, it's a much quieter pool, fewer kids and coaches calling out to each other. Lap swimmers make lane reservations to swim, and between the 45-minute lap swim sessions, the water calms down with nobody in it, and deck monitors spritz disinfectant and clean the chairs.

Meanwhile everybody arriving at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center gets temperature checks, swimmers as well as coaches and lifeguards. Everybody who is not swimming wears a mask on deck. Want to use a restroom? A deck monitor or lifeguard has to open one up, and it gets a quick cleaning after.

Swimmers arriving for a workout wear masks while on the pool deck at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

Such limits are necessary for a healthy reopening but can cut into the nonprofit organization's overall revenue, said Rose Bowl Aquatics Center Executive Director Kurt Knop. The goal is to "keep a microcosm" of all the activities that were going on before the pandemic available to a smaller group of swimmers.

For example, swim lessons for children haven't gone away, but swim instructors cannot join their swimmers in the water. They have to teach from the deck. At the Rose Bowl pool, that means a parent must join the younger kids in the water for safety. And that limits the number of swim lessons that can occur

Rose Bowl Aquatics Center Coach Chad Durieux wears a mask while speaking to a swimmer (Sharon McNary/LAist)

WHAT POOLS ARE NOT YET OPEN?

There are some important exceptions to the public pool reopenings. Water parks are not yet open. Neither are hot tubs located at public pools, or splash pads for little kids of the sort you see at amusement parks.

Residential pools, like those serving condos, apartments and homeowner associations, were allowed to open earlier, and they have their own extensive set of rules.