Is it safe to go to water parks that are reopening for the summer?

is it safe to go to a water park coronavirus
Photo via Michael Au (CC BY 2.0)
  • Some water parks in Texas, Wisconsin, and Arizona are open for business
  • Chlorine inactivates coronavirus particles
  • People should still social distance

Water parks in Texas reopened May 29 with new occupancy limits and rules, leaving people to question if other states would follow suit. So far, water parks in Wisconsin and Arizona have followed suit, though it seems that in many other places in the U.S., these large gathering places have remained shuttered for now. 

But not everybody is playing by the rules. On Aug. 8, it was reported that a water park in Roseville, California had opened despite the state’s closure order. The park could face a $500-per-day fine (though KCRA noted that, because a daily pass costs $45, the park could make that money back by selling just 12 tickets).

Rules in Texas included limiting occupancies to 25% (and eventually 50% in June), and some water parks moved to online ticket sales to avoid contact between employees and customers. At Typhoon Texas in Pflugerville, side attractions like video games or play areas weren’t open, and employees and contractors had to be screened before their shifts. Clearly, those reduced capacity numbers hurt the revenue of water parks that opened.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) shut down water parks at the end of July, but one has termed itself a swimming pool and remained open. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic with a virus that spreads in crowded places,” Whitmer’s spokesperson said in a statement, via MLive.com. “Amusement parks that allow large numbers of people to congregate, including waterslide parks, are precisely the kind of environment that could facilitate spread. If we want our schools to open, we’ve got to make tough choices about limiting our contacts.”

Meanwhile, investigators in Arizona began inspecting hotel resorts with water parks to make sure they were staying in compliance with state rules. “If they’re limiting the activities, and it’s limited to hotel guests, and they’re not drawing large crowds like people waiting, that will be taken under consideration,” Dr. Cara Christ, the state health director, told Tucson.com. “But if they’re bringing in the public, and everything’s open, and they’re operating as a water park, that’s going to be a much different scenario. And if you’re doing both of those, that’s completely off the table.”

In some encouraging news, though, inspectors investigated the water park at Orlando’s SeaWorld in September and found it to be in compliance with county mandates about COVID-19. Disney also announced that it’s planning to open one of its Florida water parks, either Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon, by March 2021. That date, though, is subject to change.

The CDC advises that chlorine and bromine commonly used in public swimming pools should be enough to “inactivate” the coronavirus in water, which makes swimming in them relatively safe. It’s still the aspect of person-to-person spread which has people concerned, as the virus spreads through respiratory droplets. Social distancing at places like public pools and water parks is still advised

In response to concerns about reopening amid coronavirus, the World Waterpark Association created an “Aquatic Facility & Waterpark Reopening Considerations document” to guide facilities on how and when to reopen. The guide urges facilities and waterparks to consider the level of risk to both staff and guests, who may potentially expose each other to the coronavirus. Lifeguard training in particular should be evaluated, per the guide, with extra precaution taken to minimize the possible transmission of coronavirus. 

The World Waterpark Association advises both the screening of employees and guests to ensure no one with COVID-19 symptoms enters a facility. CDC recommendations include sticking to parks that are nearby and avoiding organized activities or sports, which may occur at public pools or water parks. 

Still, water parks aren’t completely safe from the coronavirus. On Aug. 1, Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin announced it was closing the park indefinitely after two employees tested positive. And it remains to be seen what will happen after thousands of people from Wuhan, China—where the virus originated—attended a music festival inside a water park in mid-August.

Is it safe:

Sources: CBS Austin, CDC, World Waterpark Association

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