In the early weeks of last summer, it came as no surprise that many community recreation centers and their amenities were forced to close their doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This included parks, gyms, clubhouses and, of course, the neighborhood pool. As the summer stretched on, many residents wondered what the fate of their beloved pools would be. Some communities were able to operate their watery oasis at limited capacity, in order to accommodate local and state regulations regarding capacity and social distancing. Many, however, made the difficult decision to remain closed through the entirety of the summer, much to the dismay of their melting members. However, as fall rolled in, and the temperatures began to drop, so did the thoughts of the pool. Through the winter, suburban minds were preoccupied with thoughts of holiday lights and snow removal, but just as the days began to get a bit longer, and the spring flowers shook off the last lazy relics of winter, the dream of lounging on the warm cement, just on the edge of a nice natatorium raced to the forefront of the mind again. Much has changed since last year, when closures swept the nation, but much is still uncertain. HOAs are finding themselves in a somewhat difficult position when making the call to keep community pools closed, or to open them up for the summer of 2021.
One problem with reopening community pools in areas that remain under mandates is that there needs to be an authority present to enforce said rules and regulations. At many community pools, there is no lifeguard on duty, and residents are asked to follow pool rules under the “honor system.” While this may have worked in the past, when the rules were limited to plastic bottles rather than glass ones, or showering before getting into the pool (we’re not judging), enforcing guidelines surrounding a global pandemic feel a bit more serious.
In Delaware, for example, Health and Social Services has laid out very clear and specific guidelines that public and community pools must follow in order to open. These decrees included (but by no means are limited to) decreasing the capacity to below 50% and monitoring pool chemistry at least twice a day. Without staff in place to be sure that these regulations are met, adhering to these directives seems nearly impossible, which is especially concerning when taking into consideration that failure to follow these guidelines would result in the closure of the pool.
Some associations, in order to adhere to the limited number of bodies allowed in a given space, have implemented a reservation system, where members can sign up for time slots to swim. These systems have seen varying degrees of success, as well as varying degrees of frustration, but most would agree that having limited access is better than none at all.
Residents of some communities eager to dive back in, are asking their HOAs to accept waivers signed by homeowners, releasing the association of any legal responsibility, in order to reopen their pools this summer. This hits at the heart of the issue for most associations when it comes to reopening any community space, the potential for legal action if a resident or guest were to contract COVID while spending time there. Because this is new territory, it would behoove any HOA that is considering waivers, to seek legal guidance from representation well versed in the ins and outs of their specific county and state.
While it is still very early, moves have been taken that could make it much easier for associations to reopen their coveted amenities. In New Jersey, a bill has been introduced that would provide protection to HOAs against individuals who seek legal action, claiming that they contracted COVID at a community site, like a gym, clubhouse or pool. It is likely that other states will follow, should this bill move forward.
As we try to navigate through uncharted waters (okay, bad pun), It is likely that this will remain a fluid (couldn't resist) situation as data regarding vaccinations and number of infections are collected, and things could change quickly, and then change again, as the summer marches on.