Many states across the country are reopening and relaxing stay-at-home orders as we gear up for the summer months. More than half of all states have started to reopen non-essential businesses and commercial locations. Each state government is responsible for making these determinations; the governor and executive branch control dates for reopening and what restrictions will—or will not—be in place.
With the relaxed guidelines, HOAs have their own decisions to make. Should previously restricted amenities and social gathering spaces be reopened? How do we balance resident satisfaction with health and safety risks? And as warmer weather rolls in, many HOAs across the country are wondering, should we reopen the pool?
Fortunately, there is some good news about pools and COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that there is no evidence that the virus is spread through water. This assessment includes pools and play areas as well as hot tubs and spas. Particularly since shared water spaces are disinfected with chemicals like chlorine and bromine, the spread of the virus through water is remote. Still, pools have many areas that can still transmit the virus. Bathroom facilities, door handles, and flat surfaces surround the pool, so reopening the pool would increase the risk of virus transmission. The CDC recommends that individuals who go to a community pool should continue to practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly.
To Open or Not to Open?
Determining access to facilities during the pandemic is not always easy. Some locales with high infection rates may remain closed without much resident pushback. Other regions, particularly with a declining number of new cases, face a community eager to get back in the water.
As always, when making a decision that will affect your homeowners, refer to the HOA’s governing documents. Most have emergency or crisis provisions that allow the board to restrict amenity use. Also be sure to consult with legal professionals for any underlying legal issues that may arise. The state government, specifically the governor and the executive branch, have the power to control restrictions for COVID-19. Some state governments have issued specific guidelines through their environmental health agency. Local governments also have the power to enact rules that control social gatherings. Your legal team is best equipped to guide you as local and state governments are frequently changing their rules and restrictions for COVID-19.
In the end, the choice is up to your board and management team. Consider the health and wellbeing of your community while acknowledging the opportunity for residents to engage in outdoor activities. Be aware that making the decision to prioritize community health may result in negative feedback. In a few instances, residents have demanded dues refunds because of pool closures. Again, consult your governing documents and legal team about rules and best practices about association fees.
If your board decides to keep the pool open, here are a few practical tips to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
Limit Access. Pools are typically filled with individuals enjoying the sun and the water. During the pandemic, however, it is best to limit the number of people you permit at the pool at any given time. These restrictions will be based on the size of your pool and the surrounding space. Individuals and families should be able to enjoy the pool safely while ensuring a social distancing zone around them at all times.
Increase Supervision. In addition to limiting access to the pool, it is helpful to increase the number of employees who can ensure that participants are adhering to the new rules. Some members need a simple reminder and additional supervision can make that happen sooner than later. Of course, the pandemic has affected the number of available workers, so keep supervision capability in mind when determining how many people can access the facility.
Increased Cleaning. The CDC provides an interim guidance for businesses and employers for disinfecting community facilities. Regular, recorded cleanings should be completely more frequently than normal. Particular areas to focus on are surfaces that are touched the most often like handles of any kind, shared chairs/tables, and locker room and bathroom facilities.
Increase Awareness. Though COVID-19’s impact on our lives is unmistakable, it is always helpful to keep your community informed about why you made the decision you did. Circulating regular email updates or flyers may ease residents’ concerns and reduce the number of inquiries to the board.