By Jim McCloskey
The summer swim season has arrived, which means I’ve spent the last week or two coping with the annual flood of stories about how awful and threatening water can be. No matter whether a given story focuses on pools, spas or some other body of water, these items warn people who like to dunk themselves to play, cool off, relax or get some exercise that cryptosporidium, legionella and pseudomonas are all out there, just waiting for an opportunity to attack.
I take these messages in stride after enduring them for more than 30 years, but I was nonetheless challenged this time by what seems to be the “advice of the season” that news outlets have been distilling from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s lengthy, careful, detailed, nuanced source material: In several cases I reviewed, the news items helpfully suggest pre-swim checks of inspection scores for pools, spas and waterparks – then offer advice so painfully self-evident that I could hardly believe they felt the need to state it: Don’t swim or let your kids swim, they intone, while sick with diarrhea.
Wow. Never would have thought of that. I mean, who let’s their sick kids in the water? And who as an adult would ever think it was a good idea to go swimming while thus afflicted?
Curious, I called a friend who, among other duties, oversees his hotel’s pool and started by asking him what he thought of the primary advice about checking inspection reports. He said yes, no problem, ask away – and immediately noted that his boss is adamant about water management because a sister hotel had some problems a couple years back that kept families away from the property for weeks during one excruciatingly long summer.
Before I could ask, he started talking about diarrhea. “How,” I said, “could that be an issue? Do parents actually bring kids who are that sick to pools or waterparks?”
“Look at it this way,” he replied (and I paraphrase): The parents have a hard-earned, two-week vacation to which the kids have been looking forward for months. Little Billy is under the weather, but the thought of canceling the trip or making him be inactive for part of it is so awful that they decide to go ahead with the vacation as planned. Add excitement on top of illness and the potential for in-water accidents grows considerably.
“It happens,” he said, “and even the best sanitizing system will temporarily be overwhelmed. When we close down to clean up and make sure everything’s OK again, guests aren’t happy – and the word spreads fast.”
So I take back the thought I had that CDC’s media partners were overreaching or even being silly in their warnings for 2018. That event I’d seen as odd and rare apparently happens more often than I would ever have imagined possible.
I guess I’m from a time when “pool etiquette” was a thing and one visited a restroom and took a shower before entering the water of a public pool – and got out of the pool and returned to the locker room if nature called.
It was another of those things we learned as kids through swimming lessons: Instructors were all about teaching us to swim, but they also repeatedly emphasized being considerate of others and making certain each of us did our part to keep the water safe and clean. I don’t recall diarrhea being specifically mentioned, but I’m certain that if it was, the imagination of a child would make the thought of using a pool when afflicted seem utterly awful.
As a parent who’s dealt with sick kids during a summer or two, I resist the urge to sympathize with moms and dads who can’t say “no” to their little Billys. The simple fact is, they should say no rather than thoughtlessly put everyone else who uses the same pools, spas and waterparks at risk. Maybe continuous education via scary, mass-communicated CDC press releases is the answer, long term; for now, at least, I will stop criticizing news outlets for stating the obvious!