Yellowknife's community pool could be cleared to reopen as early as next week under a COVID-19 contingency plan.
The Ruth Inch Memorial Pool has been closed since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a precaution against the virus's spread. Since then not only has the public been without the facility's pool, hot tub and sauna, but the swim team and other user groups have been unable to train.
On Aug. 17, Protect NWT received the City of Yellowknife's proposed plan to reopen the pool. It's now under review by the environmental health unit of the Department of Health and Social Services.
People will be very happy to have the pool open again even with some restrictions. - Lynn Elkin, Special Olympics NWT
That review, according to Mike Westwick, who is in charge of COVID-19 communications with the territorial government, is expected to be completed by the end of next week. Final approval would come from Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola after her own review.
Once approved it would be up to the city to determine the reopening date. The city did not respond to a request for information on when that could happen following approval.
When the pool reopens it will be under reduced capacity and, according to the city's plan, will involve new procedures.
According to the proposed plan — and any of this could change between now and when it is approved — only the steam room and showers will remain closed.
Lane swimming will be available for five to 15 people at a time (to a maximum of two swimmers per lane). Public swim times could accommodate up to 25 people, as could private facility rentals.
Operating under reduced capacity
Among facility renters are the Yellowknife Polar Bear Swim Club and Special Olympics NWT.
Lynn Elkin, executive director of Special Olympics NWT and Inclusion NWT, said the Special Olympics swim program includes over 20 athletes who train weekly. There are between 100 and 150 families under the Inclusion NWT umbrella, many of which use public swim time at the pool.
Elkin said the Special Olympics swim program could operate under the capacity restrictions outlined in the city's plan, and would in fact be comfortable with the capacity cap.
"Swimming is a wonderful sport overall," Elkin said. "And really great for many of the athletes that participate. People will be very happy to have the pool open again even with some restrictions."
Elkin said Special Olympics NWT would finalize their COVID-19 plan once the pool's opening is confirmed.
Other aquatic programs, such as aqua jog and aqua fit, could also have up to 20 participants once the pool opens. The hot tub could accommodate four or five people, as long as they sit two metres apart.
A regular sanitization schedule would be in effect, as would other protocols.
Lane swimmers, for example, would have to pre-book lanes before arriving, take a COVID-19 risk assessment, and be limited to a 45- to 60-minute swim time limits with 15 minutes to change and leave the building without taking a shower.
Public swims would be limited to 60 minutes with 15 minutes afterward to exit the building. Participants in public swims won't be allowed to share any pool equipment, and any water toys they might want, they'll have to bring themselves.
Swim club plan
The swim club, which counts as a private rental under the city's reopening plan, has submitted its own return-to-activity plan with the department of Health. According to Westwick, that plan will be considered once the review of the city's plan is complete.
The swim club should expect a decision on their plan within two weeks of a decision on the pool's reopening, Westwick said.