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Splash Over Pools Shows Current Changes Quickly

Working with kids aside the pool
Mary Cullen
New guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health could allow some pools to reopen in a limited fashion this summer.

A complaint filed last week with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) over resuming activity in pools ahead of Stage 4 of Restore Illinois may already be moot, according to the agency.

The complaint named the YMCA of Bloomington Normal, which had resumed practices for the Waves Swim Team, and Crestwicke Country Club and Lakeside Country Club in Bloomington that opened their pools, according to the complaint. Lakeview and Crestwicke did not respond to WGLT requests for comment. The YMCA practiced for two days and then halted use of the pool.

There is now fresh guidance from IDPH allowing some use of pools for lap swimming. Most pools still cannot open, but the state makes exceptions for lap swimming, diving, swimming lessons, swim team practices, and therapy pool use. Water parks still cannot open.

The change shows how complex the issue can be, said YMCA Director BJ Wilken.

“We fall into four organizational segments of the Restore Illinois plan. We fall under youth sports. We fall under camps. We fall under child care. And we fall under health and fitness. Each of those segments have different parameters on how we can reopen,” said Wilken.

He said the Y had considered the Waves program under the youth sports category, which was OK'd to reopen May 29 with no more than 10 participants at any practice. He said pools and swimming were yanked from that plan.

Wilken said swimming and teaching swimming are very important.

“There has been a mad rush to purchase back yard pools. What concerns me is the youth of our community who might not have had swim lessons. We have a saying in the Y that two seconds (is) too long. It only takes two seconds for a child to ingest water and that can cause damage,” said Wilken.

Earlier this year, Wilken said the Y had prepped a program to address that issue with a free safety-around- water program. He termed it "School to Pool," a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club that had been set to start as school ended for the summer. He said it was intended particularly for children of color, who are less likely to have had swim lessons.

“Minority children drown at two and a half times the rate of Caucasian kids,” said Wilken.

Wilken said it would be nice to implement that program yet this year. He said YMCAs in Illinois have learned from reopening in southern states and are advocating reopening to the governor’s office for programmatic use.

“We feel that lane swimming and one-on-one instruction is very sufficient to begin,” said Wilken, adding  disease spread in pools is very minimal.

“As long as pools are kept at least at one part per million in terms of chlorine, that essentially kills just about everything in the water. What we’re trying to say is as long as you are lap swimming and social distancing within a lane and people are not breathing on each other, we believe pools are one of the safest activities people can get involved in,” said Wilken.

The Y pool has reopened for groups of 10 for lap swimming and other programmatic uses, said Wilken. And the Y hopes to move ahead with swim lessons.

He said recreational pools for a significant gathering is a different situation.

Town of Normal Parks and Recreation Director Doug Damery said the new guidance does not change the town's decision to keep its public pools closed this summer. 

"There are too many challenges to overcome in operating an aquatic center in the current environment. The recent release of the guidelines further justified that decision," said Damery. City of Bloomington pools also will not open this summer.

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