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Anatomy of a Public Pool in a Pandemic

  • August 06, 2020

“In some ways this is nice, because it’s a lot quieter and easier to focus on my job,” said Ms. Robins, 19, who grew up in El Cerrito. She will be heading off to her freshman year at Vassar College this fall, where masks and social distancing will also be the rule.

“Like everything else right now, the pool experience is much more restricted,” she said. “But I do miss the bigger community I usually work with, that random come-and-go of patrons. To me, that’s what makes it so pool-like.”

Relaxing at a pool in a pandemic feels like a Prohibition-era metaphor. We’re all craving a certain sweet liquid escape, but most of us aren’t allowed to have it. There are laws regulating access. It’s not available everywhere, but people with connections are more likely to find a way to get it. And temperance, it turns out, is mighty hard.

The structure of pool reopenings around the country has varied by timeline and degree, but one thing is constant: summer crowds are not allowed. In Illinois, a handful of community pools reopened in mid-June at a maximum of 50 percent capacity, but all public pools within the Chicago Park District remain closed.

On July 24, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation began a phased reopening of 15 of its free public swimming pools, including the Kosciuscko Pool in Brooklyn, Wagner Pool in Manhattan and Liberty Pool in Queens; the pools can operate at 70 percent capacity.

Swimmers are required to wear a face covering for entry, to be removed only when they enter the water. Six feet of social distance is required between households.

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