Lifeguard Caitlin Randall sanitizes a ladder at the Westbrook Community Center pool, which has become more popular during the pandemic. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — The city’s indoor pool has become a new hot spot this winter, drawing more swimmers than in years prior to the pandemic, and it is meeting the challenge thanks to a dedicated staff, Community Center Director Greg Post says.

The pool has gone from hosting 30 or 40 recreational swimmers a week to hosting that many on a weekend alone, Post said. Between the increased popularity, extended hours, tight scheduling to get four more full swim teams in and out while meeting the 6-18 person capacity during the pandemic, cleaning and sanitizing, and monitoring swimmers for safety and social distancing, the high school and college staffers have done an “impressive job,” Post said.

“If we didn’t have the dedicated lifeguards and swimmers we have, we couldn’t do it. It has been a challenging process,” Post said, noting that the pool hasn’t had a single staffing issue since reopening in November.

When the pool reopened after a nine-month pandemic closure, the seven lifeguards put new rules into effect. Open swims are no longer allowed and lap swimmers must start from opposite ends. The pool’s capacity has been cut from 40 to a maximum of 16, or sometimes 18 for swim teams, depending on coaches and how well they maintain spacing. Staff members clean the pool area more frequently and are responsible for checking patrons’ temperatures.

The staff also launched a pool rental option for families that has been a big hit, Post said, and that pool time books out quickly.

The pool went from hosting Westbrook and Gorham swim teams to hosting teams from Falmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport and Thornton Academy as well. The additional teams were displaced from their usual pools because of COVID closures, Post said.

“It runs like clockwork, we have the teams wait to enter and are able to clean between teams. We have 30 minutes to get one team in the pool area and the other out,” he said.

The days are longer too, going from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays with 5:30 p.m. closures on weekends to 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week now.

Lifeguard Caitlin Randall, a senior at Gorham High School, said she hasn’t minded working more.

“I am happy we’ve been able to keep it open,” Randall said. “It has been important for people to get out, but it has been different.”

Lifeguard Luci Sweet, a senior at Westbrook High School, said for many, including herself, swimming offers relief from pandemic stress.

“It helps me forget that I’m in a pandemic when I’m swimming. I think when a family comes in for a rental, they are there to have a good time. They look happier and stress-free,” Sweet said.

She hopes the pool will be able to resume swimming lessons soon.

“I think they are on the horizon,” she said.

Whether the Cornelia Warren outdoor pool will reopen this summer is still unknown, Post said.

“What I do know is that if that remains closed, we will definitely add to our programming at this pool,” he said. “The pools are such great community assets, so I am proud of my team for helping us keep this going while we constantly figure this out and adapt.”

According to the CDC, swimming in a treated pool during the pandemic is safe when social distancing guidelines are followed and swimmers wear masks when not in the water. The CDC says it is “not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, or other treated aquatic venues.”

“We don’t anticipate any issues whatsoever,” said the city’s health officer, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte. “They’ve done an outstanding job enforcing those guidelines.”

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