After a weekend of stifling heat, Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Tuesday that the City of Boston’s two outdoor pools — the BCYF Clougherty Pool in Charlestown and the BCYF Mirabella Pool in the North End — will open for city residents starting Wednesday, July 22. The pools will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through Labor Day. While the city’s 20 Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) community centers were open to the public on Sunday and Monday as cooling centers due to the heat emergency, they will only be open to youth attending summer programming at the facilities going forward.
“As we experience hotter days in the City of Boston, it’s important residents can access cooling options in our neighborhoods,” Walsh said in a press release. “Our staff has worked tirelessly to develop plans to reopen our community centers and pools in a way that is safe and prevents the further spread of COVID-19 in our city. I encourage residents to take advantage of these options and continue to take all the precautions: wearing face coverings when out, keeping your distance from others, and washing your hands.”
Walsh’s announcement came more than a month after Gov. Charlie Baker’s coronavirus reopening plan allowed for pools to reopen during Phase 2, which began on June 8. Initially, only a handful of pools reopened, with many facilities across Massachusetts needing time to adapt the recommended safety measures. Some towns like Belmont and Lexington preemptively announced they would keep their pool facilities closed all summer.
Facilities that are now open, including the 45 state-run pools and spray decks operated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, have a number of new rules in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and promote social distancing.
Here’s what to know about swimming pools in Massachusetts this summer.
Is it safe to swim in pools with the coronavirus?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread from person to person via the water used in pools. Pool disinfectants like chlorine should also kill the virus.
But like other activities, crowds are still a risk factor. Be sure that whichever facility you visit allows you to maintain a social distance of at least six feet. And bring your mask or facial covering for situations where social distancing is impossible. Experts believe that swimming in pools should be a safe and healthy activity as long as social distancing is maintained.
What new rules are in place for swimming in pools?
The state released specific standards for public and semi-public swimming pools in June. The guidelines are similar to the rules for Massachusetts beaches, telling guests to maintain social distance (even while swimming) and to limit group sizes to no more than 10 people. The guide also says that masks or facial coverings should be worn when social distancing is impossible, but they do not need to be worn while swimming.
The guidelines include additional info for pools regarding disinfection, specifically around frequently touched surfaces and shared objects. Frequently touched surfaces like handrails need to be disinfected daily, while shared objects like deck furniture or pool noodles need to be disinfected after each use. Pools must also limit the number of deck chairs or other furniture available.
Facilities must operate at a limited capacity in order to allow for social distancing, with organizations asked to allow no more than 40 percent of its normal capacity at one time. For the 45 state-operated pools and spray decks, pools that reach capacity will remain closed to new guests until the next scheduled sanitation check and water quality tests, which occur daily at 1:15, 3:15, and 5:15.
Pools are also encouraged to use signage or directional marking on pool decks (like in grocery stores) and in restrooms to encourage social distancing.
Locker rooms, changing facilities, hot tubs, and whirlpools will not be operational during Phase 2. Showers, which are required by state guidance, and restrooms located in locker rooms may be used, but staff must ensure lockers and changing facilities are not used.
When entering the pool, you will have to give your name and contact information so that contact tracing can take place in the case of a confirmed COVID-19 case at the facility. And like every visit to the supermarket, you can expect frequent announcements to remind guests to maintain social distancing.
What else can I expect when visiting a pool?
Many pools — both public and membership-based — have adapted a reservation system so that guests know they will be able to use the facility when they arrive.
In order to visit the City of Boston’s two outdoor pools, guests must register at least 24 hours in advance on the City of Boston website. Guests may only sign up for a 90-minute window, and anyone who tries to sign up for multiple sessions in a day could have their reservation cancelled.
The City of Boston’s system mirrors reservation systems used by membership-based facilities that opened near the start of Phase 2. The members-only Weymouth Club, which opened its outdoor pool facility on June 15, uses an app-based reservation system that allows members to choose a 90-minute time slot, with the guest specifying whether they will use the splash pool, main pool, or are just sunbathing on the deck. Members are only allowed to reserve three weekday slots and one weekend slot so that all of the club’s members have an opportunity to use the facilities. Members must wear masks until they arrive at their seating area, and the club will check the temperature of everyone entering the facility at the pool facility entrance.
The Colonnade Rooftop Pool, which also opened early in Phase 2, is reservation-only as well, though you do not have to be a guest of the hotel to register. The pool bar, typically a spot for guests to congregate and socialize, is closed, with guests instead ordering food and drink via one-time-use menus or a digital menu. Those poolside cocktails you love? They’ll still be available, but will be served in single-use plastic cups.
What alternatives are available to public swimming pools?
Unsurprisingly, at-home pool options are quite popular at the moment. Many of Amazon’s top-selling inflatable pools are currently unavailable or back-ordered for weeks, and other retailers have reported surging sales. Above-ground pools are a more expensive and long-term investment, but have also seen a significant surge in popularity, with some manufacturers already sold out for the year.
The state’s beaches are a good bet, especially larger ones that allow for proper spacing. That said, some beaches are only allowing town residents to go, and many are operating parking lots at reduced capacity. If you prefer freshwater swimming holes, spots like Walden Pond in Concord and Houghton’s Pond in Milton have been welcoming swimmers for weeks. But be warned: Walden Pond’s parking lot fills up quickly. This past Sunday, the parking lot was at capacity by 7:45 a.m. Swimming during non-peak hours is recommended.