NORTH OGDEN — Passing the North Shore Aquatic Center on Saturday, Independence Day, Ashley McCann was struck by the long lines outside the city-owned pool.
So she took a photo and a friend, Kevin Burns, posted the picture to his Facebook page. Then the debate began — what controls on public activity, like swimming, are reasonable given the COVID-19 pandemic, when do they go too far, how do you strike a balance, is balance even possible?
To be sure, Weber-Morgan Health Department coronavirus guidelines permit swimming pools to operate if they follow standards regarding crowd size, social distancing and more. McCann, though, worried about the spread of COVID-19 in such circumstances, maintains that the people waiting in line were packed too closely together. They weren’t putting enough space between each other to guard against COVID-19’s spread.
“There was no distancing,” she said.
To Burns, a North Ogden resident who watched the online North Ogden City Council meeting last May when the officials voted to allow the swimming facility to stay open, the incident exemplified the sometimes lacking approach in fighting COVID-19. “Do better,” he said. “My point in posting it is just to ask people to do better.”
There seems to be some debate about how close together the people are in those July 4 lines, whether the perspective of the camera makes them seem more packed than they actually are. Two long lines converging on the main entry point are seen in the photo.
“The picture I saw also showed some spacing between the groups of individuals in the line but does not include enough detail to see if individuals were practicing social distancing while waiting in line,” City Attorney Jon Call said in an email.
McCann, though, said she didn’t see any significant distancing when she took the picture. Regardless, Mayor S. Neal Berube said there’s a larger issue — the willingness of the public to follow the guidelines.
“You ask people to comply with the regulations and then it’s their choice,” he said. He wouldn’t want to put swimming pool employees in the position of having to police the lines, possibly inviting backlash given the touchy and divisive subject of social distancing and mask wearing.
The July 4 line, formed by people waiting to get in before the pool’s opening, was an anomaly, he said. The pool hadn’t drawn such a long line before. Call also noted many other safeguards in place at the facility.
“We have a pretty robust cleaning schedule to make sure that all contact spaces are cleaned regularly throughout the day. We also provide regular reminders for the patrons to practice social distancing and have placed markings on the ground to help with distances,” he said. Furthermore, tables and chairs have been moved to create more space between them.
Either way, if operation of the swimming pool proves to be problematic, city leaders may have to revisit the issue.
“We’re doing everything we can to comply,” Berube said. “If we can’t comply, then we’ll have to reevaluate our position on keeping it operating.”
Inside the facility, Justin Rasmussen, the North Shore Aquatic Center manager, said Monday that customers seem to pay heed to social distancing guidelines. “Everyone seems to stick to their family group,” he said.
The pool complex has a capacity of 1,300, but it has cut that in half to 650 due to the coronavirus. Moreover, chlorine in the water is designed to kill bacteria and viruses. Even so, Weber-Morgan Health Department Executive Director Brian Bennion noted that the chlorine may be a moot point if someone with the COVID-19 virus coughs directly on somebody else.
‘GOING TO BE DIFFICULT’
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, officials in other Weber County cities, notably Roy and Ogden, opted against opening their municipal pools.
Roy Mayor Bob Dandoy cited concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the city’s decision not to open its outdoor pool, though an indoor sports complex with a lap pool remains open. Finding a sufficient number of part-time workers was another factor as well as the reduced likely income the facility would generate if capacity was cut as a safeguard against the coronavirus. “It was just going to be difficult,” Dandoy said.
In Davis County, the Clearfield Aquatic Center, which has an outdoor swimming area, is operating, said Trevor Cahoon, public information officer for the city of Clearfield. Guidelines to guard against COVID-19 apply, though — those attending swimming lessons have their temperature taken, the pool’s capacity was cut, staff must wear face masks except when lifeguarding and more.