Open Pools For Regulated Lap Swimming In California

Open Pools For Regulated Lap Swimming In California

Courtesy of Maddie Blackwell,

In the most populous state in America, 14-year-old Maddie Blackwell of Orinda Aquatics in Moraga, California started an online petition to submit to California Governor Newsom whose own winery is open despite mandated closures to other restaurants and wineries.

Over 20,000 people have already signed the petition here. The petition reads as follows:

Dear Governor Newsom and Public Health Officers,

Thank you so much for recognizing the importance of swimming to the physical and mental health of many Californians. With your recent changes to sport guidelines, we are grateful that swimming is now considered a low-risk activity and so many of us can return to this important form of exercise and therapy.

We also appreciate the state acknowledging that learning to swim is essential for drowning prevention. This will save many lives and we really appreciate all of your efforts to keep us safe and allow us to swim at the same time.

Thank you again.

Maddie Blackwell

Steven Munatones comments, “I agree wholeheartedly with mandated dryland precautions that are necessary to get through the COVID-19 pandemic: mask wearing, social distancing, quarantining when necessary, hand washing, limiting social contacts at home and work, and no handshakes or hugs. But I have never understood the fear of transmitting COVID-19 in a pool if the locker rooms and restrooms are not used with no spectators or others in the pool – especially in the outdoor pools that are largely the norm throughout the state of California.

I read about the use of various disinfectants – including chlorine – that the US government recommends for killing COVID-19.

In an outdoor chlorinated environment – where a vast majority of swimming and water polo is played in California – it seems to me that the impact of a chlorinated outdoor environment on viruses such as COVID-19 is as follows:

1. The chlorinated water itself kills pathogens.
2. The humidity over a pool makes it hard for airborne pathogens to be disseminated in the same manner as in non-aquatic, low-humidity environments.
3. The chlorine gas traces above the pool water has a disinfectant action.
4. If a virus were in the air above the water and it did land on a swimmer or player’s face or arms, as soon as they put their face or arms back in the water, the chlorine would render it harmless.

These seem like reasonable conclusions to me, a non-scientist and a non-public health official. It would be educational for scientists and public health officials to tell me why those four points are not accurate or true.

Despite swimming competitions being held throughout the United States and water polo games being played in states such as Connecticut, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, I am unaware of cases where aquatic athletes transmit or catch COVID-19 in these games and practices. Of course, there are athletes who have caught COVID-19, but these transmissions have largely been traced to family members who got COVID-19 at work or perhaps from other students, staff, teachers or friends on campus or elsewhere.

When proper social distancing, 100% compliance with mask wearing by coaches, swimmers and players on deck, no locker room use, no hugs on pool decks or elsewhere, mandated two-week quarantining of individuals who have come in contact with those who test positive, and other protocols are strictly followed, it appears to me that the dryland threat of catching COVID-19 is greater than the threat of transmitting or catching COVID-19 in an outdoor chlorinated pool.

On a broader sense, scientists and public health officials continue to “push the data” and utilize their knowledge to help protect the citizens across America. There are so many research areas that are required during this pandemic, and there are so many higher areas of priority, but from the perspective of die-hard swimmers, the opportunity to study the impact of an outdoor chlorinated environment on the potential for transmission of COVID-19 may have future implications in the sport and across society.

Swimming is not the highest priority at this time of dual public health and economic crises, but something that crossed my mind after reading about Maddie’s petition. It would be great if an experienced scientist and knowledgeable public health official could comment on the four points above – true or not true or partly true or irrelevant to the situation at hand in the State of California.”

Ivan Vranges puts the ban of youth competitions and limited access to pools in California in perspective. “These challenging times of COVID-19 remind me of a lot of growing up throughout the Croatian War of Independence that took place between 1991-1995. It was scary and difficult, but the adults around us chose to keep families and children living, not hiding in fear despite the risks.

Growing up in a war torn country, I remember spending most of my freshman year in high school ready to evacuate school and running to the underground shelters. Classes were regularly and abruptly cut short by loud sirens which meant run for your life. But, we still went to school, and the teachers still were willing to teach us kids.

Even with the risk of losing our lives throughout the war, we did not stop living, and adults kept children in regular routines as much as possible despite the enemy still occupying military stations within the city. For me throughout the war, having water polo practice and school was the best thing because I could see my friends and get my mind off the stresses of war. At the time, all pools were closed because they were used as back up water reservoirs in case the supply of water was cut to the city, but our team still got together to train and play other sports as much as we could to get exercise. I remember our indoor pool windows looked like Swiss cheese with all of the bullet holes.

Our “normal” was living with the threat of enemy snipers on roof buildings and mandatory city wide blackouts that allowed me and my teammates to sneak across pitch black streets, avoid certain buildings, and actually crawl under a concrete wall to get into our gym. The blackouts were really orchestrated to prevent enemy planes from seeing their targets, but we kids used them to our advantage so we could go to practice.

Once we were in the gym, we were safe because all of the windows were blacked out. I don’t remember anyone in our group being scared or thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. All we were thinking about is being with friends and playing sports. We often traveled close to enemy lines just to get to our competition. Our water polo team went on to be known as the best youth generation of players in our Club’s history (POŠK, Split).

Later as an adult, I asked my coach what he was thinking about when he had us play sports and practice in those circumstances and he told me, “That was the only way to give you the normal life at the time.” He explained to me that It was the only way to keep us occupied so we didn’t see everything that was going on around us. It was much like today with mass graves caused by COVID deaths in large cities, people losing their jobs, the looting, the rioting, and all the uncertainty about what tomorrow brings. We didn’t have to know all of the details, we were just kids.

I hope that my kids will be able to experience normal life without living in fear. We know the risk of COVID-19 just as my coach and my parents knew the risk of war. The question that we need to ask ourselves right now is does that risk outweigh the benefits? The benefits of kids growing up, socializing, learning, playing and becoming productive members of society.”

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