Three of the largest swim teams in Minnesota have successfully petitioned Governor Tim Walz to allow them to return to training amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with strict social distancing regulations, on June 1 – when the state enters phase II of its plan to reopen.
Among the teams is Riptide Swim Club, which means world record holder Regan Smith will be able to return to the water regularly.
In a letter titled “Petition to Open Pools for Limited Purpose of Competitive Swim Practice in a Controlled and Supervised Environment on June 1, 2020,” Board of Directors presidents from Riptide, Edina Swim Club, and Aquajets Swim Club laid out the ways their teams can safely return to action under the Minnesota Department of Health’s “Guidance for Social Distancing in Youth Sport.”
Originally, according to Minnesota’s reopening plan, pools – whether for recreational or competitive use – were to remain closed through at least phase II.
“We sat down and said, ‘What do we need accomplished and who do we know that can get us in front of the right people?'” Riptide’s Jim Wise told SwimSwam. “We need to lay out that ‘Yes, we want to get out swimmers back in the water, but that safety is obviously the most important thing.'”
“Competitive swimming does not require direct contact between teammates or coaches and social distancing can be maintained throughout practice,” the letter says. “Therefore, competitive swimming is conducive to maintaining a controlled environment in a pool separated by lanes, unlike recreational swimming, which is an unstructured environment in which participants interact more closely with each other.”
Based on the health department guidelines, as well as the CDC’s and USA Swimming’s, the letter explains how the teams will implement restrictions. Those restrictions are as follows:
- Create pods of a maximum of 10 participants/Adhere to facility guidelines for COVID-19/Follow proper ratios of swimmers.
- Swim practices can easily be tailored to meet this requirement. Current plans already require staggered swim practices, reduced number of swimmers in the pool at one time, and time between practices to complete disinfection protocols and to minimize interaction between swimmers. Coaches are physically removed from the swimmers while on deck and can easily enforce social distancing between coaches by posting coaches at opposite ends of the pool. All coaches will wear appropriate PPE when checking in swimmers and when interacting with swimmers.
- Parents do not attend practices.
- Swimming does not require parent involvement on the pool deck. As a result, our plans direct that parents can wait in their vehicles for swimmers, but may not enter the facility. We have instructed families that they should not carpool to practices.
- Practice Outside.
- If outdoor pools are open this summer, some teams may be able to swim outdoors. However, most teams can best protect swimmers in indoor facilities where optimized HVAC, air exchange, social distancing, surface sanitation and optimal chlorine and disinfection levels can be controlled on a continuous basis.
- Keep interaction contactless and do not intermix groups.
- Swimming is an individual, non-contact sport, so practice can be conducted without physical contact. Swimmers can be spaced to ensure no contract during practice. Recently, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFSH”) released a Guidance for Opening up High School Athletics and Activities. The guidance classifies individual swimming as “low risk of infection” because it is a sport that can accommodate social distancing or be performed individually with no sharing of equipment (compared with sports that involve close, sustained contact between participants and lack protective barriers).
- Do not participate in meets.
- USA Swimming and MNSI have cancelled all sanctioned meets for the summer of 2020. At this point, we are looking for the ability to practice in a controlled and supervised environment, not compete.
- No sharing of equipment.
- There is no need for swimmers to share equipment. Clubs can also limit or eliminate the use of individual equipment during swim practices. Swimmers are separated in lanes by lane lines and by distances greater than 6 feet while in the water.
- Avoid use of locker rooms and showers.
- Plans provide for swimmers to arrive showered, and in their swim suits ready to swim, and to exit the building in their swimsuits. Locker rooms and showers will not be open for general use. Bathrooms and showers will be available for emergency use as needed and disinfected after each use.
Accompanying the letter was a presentation called “SafeSplashMN” that includes detailed recommendations for teams across the state on how to conduct workouts, facilitate entering and exiting the premises, screen athletes for health, and respond to any potential positive COVID-19 tests. It’s not clear yet if all Minnesota teams can reopen now that the guidelines were approved for the aforementioned three, or if teams will have to petition individually.
The Minnesota effort comes two days after Machine Aquatics parent and lobbyist Jason Osborne presented a petition signed by over 30 Olympians in the White House, similarly urging officials to consider the difference between recreational and competitive pool use. Click here to view SwimSwam’s state-by-state coronavirus reopening index.