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Public pools working to keep people cool while still taking precautions against COVID-19

As hotter temperatures tend to drive people to community pools, swimmers' and lifeguards' attention focused on a wider array of hazards amid coronavirus concerns.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — As temperatures rise, so does the number of people who head to the water to cool off.

During any other summer that correlation would seem innocent enough, but another statistic – the number of new coronavirus diagnoses on the First Coast – is making for a very unwelcome and cold new splash at local swimming pools.

“The water itself is safe, but every chair that someone sits in, we disinfect it afterward with virus killer,” YMCA lifeguard Kurt Johnson said while wrapping up his shift at the Galimore Center in St. Augustine Sunday.

The focus of a lifeguard is of course typically what’s happening in the water, but the COVID-19 crisis has added so many other concerns.

“We also require social distancing from our loungers, which we set out at the beginning of the shift,” Johnson said.

With temperatures vaulting into the 90s, Johnson said the crowds have swelled somewhat, and although patrons are not required to wear face coverings, they are required to maintain social distance.

“We’re constantly reminding people that when they come here because sometimes they think it’s a free-for-all,” he said.

Operations have shifted dramatically overall, to include mandatory body temperature checks for patrons, plexiglass partitions at the sign-in desk, locker facilities and indoor showers off-limits, and even a slight change to restroom protocol.

“We’ve got the doors propped open so there’s less handholds,” Johnson said.

But the rules are different in the pools as well, where Johnson explained that patrons “should not be congregating next to each other at each end of the lanes,” and that only people who come in as part of the same group – such as families or spouses – are allowed to occupy the same swim lane. They’re also required to enter adjacent lanes from opposite ends of the pool.

Visitor Clay Carmichael, accompanied at the pool Sunday by his 5-year-old daughter Bridie, described the rules as easy to follow.

“We know where to enter the pool, where to exit the pool, and how far apart we’re supposed to stay, outside the family,” he said.

Carmichael said he’s generally observed obedience of the rules by others during his frequent visits.

“Yes, they all follow, and [I’ve] been here the whole summer,” he said.

Another frequent visitor, Aruna Andes of St. Augustine, said she hasn’t been deterred by the COVID-19 crisis, estimating the largest crowd she’s seen recently at about 20 people.

“I still felt like there was plenty of space for all of us," she said. "We all maintained a good distance.”

Andes said her pool routine is to maintain good health – she does aquatic exercise – not to endanger it.

“You can either get incredibly afraid of every little droplet, or you can just take measures and just do all you can do,” she said. “I’m kind of the ‘take measures, do all you can do.’ I don’t take risks, but I also don’t stop myself from living.”

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