Dubuque’s municipal swimming pools will not open this summer.
City Council members on Monday voted, 6-1, to keep Flora and Sutton pools closed amid concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ultimately, safety has to come before convenience,” said Council Member Laura Roussell. “With so many risks, I can’t support opening the pools up. I recognize a lot of families look forward to it, and (I) encourage families to take advantage of other programming (Dubuque) Leisure Services will be offering. … I feel the risks outweigh the benefits.”
Council Member Brett Shaw cast the lone vote against the move.
“I look at the amenities the city offers … (and) I view the public pools as being among the most critical,” he said. “Swimming itself is a critical life skill in a river town. Beyond that … we still need places to break away and skip the heat or at least cool down. We should open both pools, if even just for a month.”
City Manager Mike Van Milligen also touted the benefits of such a move.
“While opening the pools creates concerns about additional exposures to COVID-19 and it will increase city costs, the benefit is that the pools provide an affordable outdoor entertainment option,” he said.
In Iowa, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to trend down. There have been 20 new confirmed cases in Dubuque County over the past week.
“Even though most restrictions have been lifted ... the pandemic continues,” said city Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan.
She added, “Just because things are opening up doesn’t mean it’s over. We don’t know how the lifting of restrictions will affect our cases. And we may be seeing that just in the past week because the first restrictions began to be lifted a couple weeks ago. We know that the incubation period, so to speak, for COVID-19 can be up to 14 days after you’re exposed before you start to show symptoms.
“We know that these things have waves,” Corrigan continued. “We have not ended the first wave yet.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday announced pools can reopen fully so long as reasonable measures are implemented to ensure social distancing, increase hygiene practices and other health measures to lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
City officials have said that if the pools opened, attendance would have been limited to 150 people at a time at Flora Pool and 100 people at a time at Sutton Pool.
Under normal circumstances, attendance can top 1,800 people combined at the two pools.
Waterslides, high dives, lockers and play equipment also would have been closed, and lounge chairs and picnic tables would have been removed, according to Dubuque Leisure Services Manager Marie Ware.
But even with limited admission, enforcing social distancing within the pools would not be manageable, she said.
“(I)t is not feasible for a lifeguard to continuously scan the pool surface to also take time keeping people apart for social distancing,” she wrote in a report presented to city council members.
While health officials were less concerned about transmission of the virus via pool water than airborne transmission, “the concern is being able to maintain physical distancing,” Corrigan said.
“There’s just a lot of varying factors that any way you look at it is going to require more vigilance by the staff to monitor ... enforce and make sure the (public health) guidance is adhered to,” she said.
Council members also cited financial considerations for keeping pools closed.
Council Member David Resnick and Mayor Roy Buol said it makes little fiscal sense to reopen the pools for one month at a time when city department heads are preparing scenarios to cut 10%, 20%, 30% or more of their budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
City officials are bracing for an estimated $11.9 million revenue loss in the soon-to-begin fiscal year due to the pandemic.
Ware said it would take about three or four weeks to fill the pools, hire lifeguards and complete training.
She said if the pools opened, the goal would be to retain enough lifeguards to keep one or both open through Aug. 14, when Dubuque Community Schools students are scheduled to resume classes. They would remain open to Aug. 23 at the latest.
“It’s clear opening the pools this summer doesn’t make much sense, either health-wise or money-wise,” Resnick said. “No one likes this.”
At least 25 Iowa communities have chosen to keep their pools closed for the summer, Ware said.
In the Telegraph Herald coverage area, cities such as Galena, Ill., have gone that route, while communities including Cascade, Iowa, are opening their pools.