Hot Springs Pool reopens, as reaction to restrictions varies
The Ouray Hot Springs Pool reopened Monday with limited guests and facilities, more than three months after closing.
Instead of the hundreds of people who would typically visit on a warm June day, the pool was limited to 50 swimmers at a time, for a total of 150 swimmers allowed throughout the day in three two-hour sessions.
Passes for the noon and 3 p.m. time slots sold out quickly on the first day, City Resource Director Rick Noll said, and people were waiting in line at 5 p.m. for the third session, 30 minutes before passes went on sale. Admission is being handled on a first-come, first-served basis, with no reservations. Price for admission remains the same as before - $18 for adults and $12 for children.
The county has submitted a request for a variance from the state to allow up to 200 people at a time; the pool's full capacity is just under 800. It's unknown when an answer on that request might be received, as the county previously submitted one request regarding shortterm rentals last month that went unanswered.
Members have priority for the first session Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as we ll as Sunday evening, but if fewer than 50 arrive in the first half hour, the remaining passes are available to the public. Lap lanes are also open to members during that session, he said. Members who want to come during a later session have to pay the same admission fees as the public, and a decision has not yet been made about extending the length of memberships to compensate for the closure, No ll said.
Masks are required in line and inside the gates until people enter the water. Lifeguards, who monitored the sparse crowds Monday from the pool deck, wore face coverings too. Only two of the five pools were open, and the rock wall and slide remained shuttered. Those attractions, alo ng with lockers and the fitness center, will likely remain closed for a while, Noll said. He's hopeful water aerobics classes can resume soon but didn't specify when. At this time, swimmers are encouraged to arrive ready to swim, to avoid crowding the locker room. They're also encouraged to shower and dress elsewhere after swi mming, and to bring their own towels, which are not available to rent.
For the most part, "people are happy," he said, recalling a guest who said, "Now this feels like Ouray." Some have made what he called "minor suggestions," including extending the time limits or eliminating the mask requirement.
Katie Mu rray, who was visiting with her family from Arizona, was first in line for the third session of the day, after waiting nearly two hours. They arrived at 3:15, too late to get into the second session of the day, so they decided to stick around and pass time at the playground until 6 p.m. when the next session began.
She called the so-person limit "silly,"' comparing the nearly empty pools to crowded restaurants in town, where people are seated in much closer quarters. "But I guess they do what they have to do," she said. The so-person rule is in compliance with state health orders, not local rules.
Victoria Newby, who was visiting with her fami ly from Texas, was happy with the safety measures, and said the time limits give more people an opportunity to enjoy the pool. "They took really great precautions," she said, praising the balance between safety and "embracing and being part of the community."
"I don't like the rules and requirements, but I'm glad they're open at least," said Bruce Jost. He and Diane Jost, also visiting from Texas for the last two weeks, said they've been checking the pool's Facebook page frequently to see when it would reopen.
They've been "pretty vocal" about their frustrations with the slow pace of reopening here, he said, particularly the requirement that they wear masks. At home, they have much more relaxed restrictions, despite having a much large; denser population, and he thinks Colorado should follow suit. Coronavirus cases have surged recently in Texas and Arizona, with n straight days of record COVlD-19 hospitalizations in Texas and more than 1,000 new cases in Arizona every day for the last two weeks.
The Josts, who said they've had 12 friends come visit them during their stay here, said locals have been less welcoming than they experienced on past trips, and said they worry about the impact of the closures on the small businesses they usually frequent.
Others arrived without knowing it was reopening day, and without expecting the time limits. Antonio Vazquez, who came to Ouray for the day from Grand Junction, said he saw online that the pool was open from 10 a.m. to to p.m., its normal hours, and figured they could pay and walk in as usual. Instead, he and his kids waited in line for the last session of the day after missi ng out on passes earlier in the afternoon. "I think it should be a little more than 50 people," he said. "Families all stay in one spot, and it's in the water."
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no evidence the virus can spread to people through the water, especially when it's treated with chlorine or bromine, the pools still provide a space for communal gathering, where the virus could be spread. The restrictions are intended to maintain enough space between visitors to prevent airborne transmission. CDC guidelines for public pools recommend distancing, frequent disinfection and wearing face masks out of the water.
The pool needs at least 150 customers each day to generate enough revenue to cover operating expenses and debt, Mayor Greg Nelson said last month. The Ouray City Council voted to temporarily eliminate the pool manager, as well as vacant assistant manager and aquatics coordinator positions, in an effort to cut costs and ensure the "survival of the pool," acting City Administrator Melissa Drake said.
While all sessions were full on the first two days, "the pool right now, at this level, is not financially viable," Noll said. In addition to hoping the variance request is granted, "'we're looking at efficiencies," he said, including changi ng scheduling and staffing to find savings.
It's possible more sessions will be added or time limits will be extended, Noll said . For now, the current operations will continue for two weeks, unless permission to open up to larger numbers comes sooner. After that, "'we'll adjust and see if we can change the hours and how to do it," Noll said. The one-hour breaks between sessions, which are currentl y being used for cleaning, could be shortened slightly, he said, and the priority times for members may also be adjusted.
Liz Teitz is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Please consider contributing to support her work at the Ouray County Plaindealer - email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how.