Swimming pools in the city will be closed in summer 2020, Beckley Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Gray Baker announced Friday.
Baker said the city's two pools — one at New River Park and one at Historic Black Knight Municipal Park — will not be opening on Memorial Day weekend and will be closed for the summer due to COVID-19 concerns.
She also said that the pools would likely not be available for area day cares which rely on the pools for summer activities for children.
“Normally this is the most exciting time of the year for my department," Baker said in a press release. "We are gearing up to open the pools and getting ready to start all of our summer programs so this is so sad and very disappointing."
COVID-19 presents unique challenges for managing pools, Baker said.
Pools are confined spaces not conducive to social distancing. The very nature of lifeguarding requires close contact with pool users and creates potential for unnecessary risk in life-saving situations, she said.
"The CDC has found no evidence COVID can be spread through properly-treated pool water," she said, then added that it can spread on lounge chairs, on towels and in shower rooms.
"And how do you socially distance 5-year-olds?" she said. "How do you socially distance families who haven't seen each other for two months but then get together at the pool?
"I can tell you, many grandparents bring their grandchildren to the pool."
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through properly treated pool water, there is a definite concern the virus could be spread in the pool bathhouses, in restrooms, on pool ladders, slides, and pool lounge chairs.
Opening pools for even a shortened season would have been problematic because of lifeguard training issues, added Baker.
Local lifeguards are trained by the YMCA of Southern West Virginia. The Y has been closed since March because of the pandemic and for remodeling and will not likely open before July, Y CEO Jay Rist reported Friday.
Last summer, the city had reported that there were problems finding enough lifeguards to work both pools.
Neither pool was open seven days a week because of the lack of qualified lifeguards.
"Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another," Baker said. "We maintain our swimming pools to be safe and fun places for families to spend time, but we’re dealing with a pandemic with a lot of unknowns.
"This decision is about a trade-off of our kids having a fun place to spend their summer afternoons or potentially saving lives in our community,” Baker added. “While swimming pools are a quality-of-life issue, they are unfortunately outweighed at this time by COVID-19, which, in the long run, is a much larger life issue.”