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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Although the county gave the green light for swimming pools to open starting June 19, local homeowners association board members were grappling with whether to open their pools, and if so, how to do it safely.
Howard Greif, president of the Lake Hallowell Homeowners Association in Olney, said it is more than “just opening the pool.”
That’s the easy part, he and others said. Most pools have been prepared for opening and properly maintained, staff have been hired, and supplies have been ordered.
But for homeowners associations (HOAs), the concern is safety and potential liability — to what extent they may be liable if patrons or staff were to contract the coronavirus.
And if guidelines are not property followed, fines of up to $5,000 could be imposed.
The county has issued capacity guidelines determined by dividing the square footage surface area of the pool by 36 to “ensure six feet of separation between pool patrons in the water.”
Most of the county guidelines originated with the Maryland Department of Health.
Simon Harrington is the president of RSV Pools, based in Gaithersburg, which manages many local pools.
“We are going by Montgomery County’s guidelines, which are very confusing and not forthcoming,” he said.
Harrington said the one guideline that does not help anyone is limiting the number of patrons to one per six square feet of pool space.
“That is no help at all,” he said. “Why not just say half the regular number of patrons? That is more reasonable.”
Harrington said some of the pools he manages have made the decision not to open this year.
Others are waiting until their board meetings to discuss the latest guidelines.
If a pool makes the decision to open, it will take time to get the county inspection and to properly prepare the pools and train the staff — at least a couple of weeks.
Even if the pools don’t open, they have to be properly maintained for the rest of the season.
Matt Quinn, president of the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA), an umbrella organization made up of Olney area HOAs and civic associations, said there is much confusion and many unanswered questions regarding pool openings.
He said he reached out to a property management company for guidance, who told him that communities considering opening their pools should be very cautious.
“I don’t know how property managers can tell HOAs to open up based on the information given without subjecting themselves to pretty significant liabilities,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision to open a pool.”
Greif said the situation has been dynamic and agrees the decision needs to be made carefully.
“This is all very new, and making the right decision is critical,” he said. “It’s a lot to consider. We are all volunteers, and while we go through the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities’ required training, “there is no “Pandemic 101” training.
“As community leaders, we are not rushing into decisions,” Greif added. “The safety of the individuals in our community, along with unallocated budget costs need to be analyzed. It is prudent to do proper research and analysis of these ever-changing requirements to ensure that all parties can live up to such a commitment before you simply open up a pool and jump in the water. The safety of community members is and always has been a top priority.”
Greif said that for every resident who tells him that he or she wants the pool to open, there is another who believes the pool should remained closed.
He said the final decision on Lake Hallowell’s pool would not be made until after the July 6 board meeting.
“We will seek to include community input, as we do with all major decisions,” he said.
The county’s guidelines include stringent cleaning standards, as well as requiring masks for staff and pool patrons interacting with others, although not to be worn while in the water.
Greif said there is concern for pool staff, typically teenagers, who will be responsible for sanitizing and guideline enforcement, in addition to their lifeguarding duties.
Harrington thinks the teens will be able to meet requirements.
“We may have to adapt,” he said. “We have purchased the disinfectant, which wasn’t easy to get. We will instruct the staff on how to use it. Basically, it is what we already do — clean in the morning and evening and then through the day as part of the lifeguards’ shifts.”
Other safety measures issued by the county include:
Restricting the use of lap lanes to one patron at a time;
The mandatory use of face coverings by staff and patrons unless the individual is in the pool;
Implementing physical distancing requirements between patrons or household groups to ensure at least six feet of separation in the standing or seating areas;
No gatherings or events are allowed;
Ensuring physical distancing while patrons wait to use a diving board or water slide; and
Hot tubs, spray or splash pads, wading pools and lazy river pools will remain closed until Phase 3.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Licensure & Regulatory Services program must inspect and approve the reopening measures before swimming pools may open.
Montgomery County Recreation outdoor pools and indoor aquatic centers were not schedule to open on June 19 when Phase 2 went into effect.
Recreation staff is continuing to work on training, safety plans and staff placement and will open on a modified schedule in the coming weeks, the county reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is no evidence that the coronavirus can spread through pool water, provided it is properly maintained and regularly serviced.
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