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Perspectives on the New Normal


     by Dr. Mary Wykle, PhD and Terri Mitchell, PTA


COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world to some degree.  Our new normal is an adjustment, but it is temporary, and many see it as a chance for personal growth.  Worldwide spikes in the pandemic create an ever-changing scenario. Meanwhile, aquatic fitness instructors adjust, or wait. 

In the US, the CDC provides guidance for swimming pools, and state and local governments interpret the best course of action for each pool facility.  The CDC continues to post that “there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through recreational water.”  The CDC highly recommends that “masks not be worn in the pool” because breathing is challenged when the masks become wet.  Local rules on the use of masks, social distancing, temperature checks and health questionnaires vary from every location.

How have indoor and outdoor pools adjusted to serving swimmers, swim teams, water exercisers and casual pool participants?  We thought it would be interesting to share our perspectives and how challenges and rules have been implemented since pools first re-opened this past spring or summer.  And how pool managers, aquatic instructors and participants are learning to adjust.

Terri’s Experience as an Aquatic Fitness Instructor (Texas)

Last May, our mayor, pool manager, swim team coach and I sat down to discuss a plan for re-opening the outdoor pool.  We had website details from the CDC, information from USA Swimming and guidelines from the city.  Specific to the building, markers were put up to show 6 feet of distance between participants when entering the facility.  A plexiglass window was installed at the front desk between staff and participants, and each person was asked a few COVID questions.  Each person could swipe their own credit card and a receipt was printed directly to the individual. Signs were posted that stated masks were required on deck before and after aquatic activities. Restrooms were closed; two deck showers were open for use.  The pool manager decided to keep the chlorine level at 3.0ppm, on the high side for safe disinfecting. Being outside, UV light was accessible.

It was determined that my aqua fitness classes could start with 12 participants in the 6-lane, 25-yard pool, and safely spaced with 6 feet or more between each person. We started with classes five mornings per week, so that each person could attend two classes per week.  (Last year, everyone attended 3 days per week). As a contract employee, I have kept an email list of participants.  It was first come, first serve for week one.  The next week, we increased class size to 18.  The next week, to 25.  Everyone committed to certain days.  If they had to miss, they would let me know, and I could ask someone on the “wait list” if they wanted to attend that day.  This was an administrative job that I have never had, but it worked quite well.

The lane lines were removed, so we had an open pool, and no one had to crawl over or under the lane lines. We did not use any exercise equipment for the month of May. Tables were around the perimeter of the pool deck, and everyone was told to only have two persons per table. I had to bring in my own stool, as all the chairs and chaise lounges were locked up.  I had to take my stool home with me when I left.  I own a professional sound and microphone system, so I was able to be heard when I reminded everyone to be aware of keeping 6 feet apart, and to remember to wear their mask when leaving the pool. I do not wear a mask when I am teaching from the deck.

In June, we got permission from the pool manager to use hand bars.  They were disinfected after having been in storage for a few months.  They are kept in a wire wheeled basket and are quickly dried in the sun after being used. A few participants bring their own hand bars to class each time.  Participants are grateful to have aquatic fitness and are happy to follow the guidelines.

In September, high school lifeguards were back in the classroom, which limited our days of lifeguard coverage.  So, I taught two classes on Monday and Wednesday, one on Friday.  Still, 5 classes per week.  Again, an administrative job that was time consuming, but worth it! There were 15 minutes between each class so that the participants in the first class could exit safely, and the next class participants could enter.

In November, the weather was getting cooler and several participants decided they were done with outside classes.  So, I chose to offer one class, 3 days a week.  We were up to 30 persons per class, and still 6 feet apart. I did not include traveling moves, or floating, as some persons tended to drift when suspended, but everyone got a great workout.  Participants are grateful for the opportunity to attend classes.

In addition, an indoor pool is available to us.  The 6-foot distance guideline is still enforced.  Everyone brings their own noodle, or deep-water flotation belt. As soon as all high school swim team members have left the building, our class participants can enter the pool area, 6 feet apart, and class begins as soon as everyone is in place.

I am very grateful to be associated with our city pool, as they followed CDC guidelines, USA Swimming suggestions, and no one contracted COVID. Our participants felt safe, thankful for the opportunity to do water exercise, and we had fun celebrating summer, the holidays, different playlists, and staying aquafit. With advanced planning, specific guidelines and communication, outdoor pools as well as indoor ones can open safely to serve their community and/or club members.

Mary’s Experience as a Swimmer (Virginia)

Currently, I am not teaching classes. My indoor pool opened in the middle of June. It is a 25-yard pool with 12 lanes.  No access to other areas of the private club is permitted.  Pool chemistry averages 2 to 3 ppm, 7.6 pH, and has an excellent ventilation/HVAC system. Four lanes are always reserved for lap swimmers with one swimmer or water walker per lane.  

Ongoing aquatic exercise classes are offered on M-W-F-S morning and included in club membership. Classes on T-Th morning charge an extra fee.  Swimming or classes are scheduled for 45 minutes, then a 15-minute break for cleaning and sanitizing. 

Strict compliance to CDC guidelines is followed with entry at the front pool door at the assigned time. Exiting is on the opposite side using the rear doors. Prior to entry, a verbal health questionnaire and temperature check is required. Participants register in advance for classes and cannot enter until the door is opened. Names are checked upon entry.  Participants arrive and leave in their swim wear and appropriate covering.  Deck showers are not available, so prior showering or rinsing is expected at home. Plastic chairs are placed around pool for storage.  There is a restroom on deck and permission is required to enter the locker room, one person at a time.  Some lane lines are left in place to assist with distancing. 

The membership class size averages 20 participants.  No more than four are allowed per lane.  All aquatic exercises are done in place.  Participants bring their own hand bars or noodles.  The participants are compliant with distancing; they are older and understand the risks. They are happy to have the opportunity to participate and “obedient” to CDC and facility requirements.  Social distancing of 10 feet is suggested. The T-Th class is a deep-water format. There are 8-14 participants, but participation is dropping because of the extra cost.  Participants bring their own flotation belt and noodle. My critical eye shows distancing is not enforced, just encouraged. With the instructor in the pool, my concern is that directing the exercises in the middle of the group could spread aerosol droplets. So far, there have been no problems reported. As class numbers dwindle to 6 or 7, distancing is not the issue.    

County pools are offering extensive aquatic exercise classes throughout the day with a limit of 10 per class.  Temperature check, health screening, and mask or face covering is required for entry. Lockers are not available, and participants are encouraged to bring a water bottle since water stations are limited.  Advanced reservations are required to visit any county recreation center for members and guests. As recreation centers reopen, tickets are available on Sundays for the following week. There are two types of reservations available: Membership tickets for those with an existing membership and Paid General Admission tickets for those who drop-in.

The YMCA pool in Williamsburg was completely re-furbished during lockdown, with 6 lap lanes for swimming, depth ranging from 3.5 - 9 feet, and water temperature of 79 to 80 degrees.  A family pool is in the center of the pool complex. The family pool connects with an opening to two therapy lanes with depth ranging from 3.5 - 6 feet.  The water temperature in the therapy/family lanes is 90 degrees.  Currently, one water exercise class is offered at 6:15am in lap lanes, but no arthritis or aquatic therapy sessions.  The two therapy lanes are reserved for aquatic therapy on Tuesday and Thursday mornings but are not currently being used.  Therefore, those lanes are normally available for water walking or self-exercise in warm water.

Currently, aquatic exercise is very fluid – no pun intended.  Some of us are lucky to have the opportunity to continue teaching and the challenge to change the way we teach.  Feedback has shown that participants are receiving increased benefits, including social, fitness, and more.

The perspective we want to leave you with is the opportunity to grow during this time.  If you are not back to teaching at the pool, take advantage of all the online and virtual classes available through AEA to stay up to date with your training and motivation.  We will be back to normal one day, and better than ever.





Mary O. Wykle, PhD, is president of MW Associates and specializes in aquatic program development for special populations for the Aquatic Therapy and Rehabilitation Institute.  Certifications include ATRI, AEA, Ai Chi Master Trainer, Hydrorevolution Trainer. She has received all levels of awards from ATRI, the AEA Lifetime Achievement Global Award, plus ISHOF, and other organizations. She can be reached at mowykle@gmail.com

Terri Mitchell, PTA, may be a retired AEA Training Specialist of 25 years, but she has not retired from teaching year round aqua fitness in Austin, Texas.  She is grateful that she has had safe pools to work in and rule abiding participants this summer and fall and winter. She can be reached at texterri@austin.rr.com

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