Families typically mark Memorial Day weekend as the beginning of summer, with crowded backyard barbecues, long days at the local pool, or trips to beaches with clusters of sunbathers.
This year, a lot of those traditional pastimes aren’t safe without precautions in place because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Monday evening, almost 100,000 Americans have died from the disease or complications resulting from the disease, which was first documented in Texas in March. In Victoria and the eight other counties that make up the Crossroads, there were 362 confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. Monday. Of those, 18 people have died and 283 people have recovered.
The spread of COVID-19 throughout the country has changed a lot of American traditions, like Major League Baseball games, which are expected to be played in front of empty stadiums when the season starts this summer.
But there are still safe ways to enjoy many favorite summer hobbies, as long as you plan and follow the advice of public health authorities.
Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease specialist, said, for the most part, whether you’re hoping to go to the pool, beach, or a state park, the same rules still apply: Keep your distance from people who aren’t in your household.
Kulkarni is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, but also spent several years with the Epidemic Intelligence Service, the federal government’s elite squad of scientists who investigate and respond to disease outbreaks.
“The main concept is to avoid being in a confined space, whether inside or outside, for prolonged periods of time with large numbers of people,” Kulkarni said.
Currently, Kulkarni said, there is no information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the virus can be transmitted through pool water. As long as the pool water is cleaned with normal chlorination procedures, you don’t need to worry about the water, Kulkarni said. But you do need to be cognizant of the people in and around the water.
“The main issues are related to crowding, and too many people using the same facilities, using the same area, using the same equipment, etc.,” he said.
This same thinking applies to other summertime activities, like a day at the beach or a hike in a state or local park. Wherever you go, you should keep socially distant from large groups of people, Kulkarni said.
At the Oak Hill Pool in Victoria, the pool’s leaders weren’t sure it would open for its standard start of the season during Memorial Day weekend.
The pool’s board of directors met in April to decide whether they could safely open for the summer season, said Heather McBride, the pool’s treasurer and aquatics manager.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because we wanted to make sure that our guards and our patrons are safe in all of this,” McBride said. “That’s definitely our No. 1 priority, is safety and making sure no one gets sick.”
Pool leaders consulted with local authorities to see what guidelines they should follow, and reorganized the tables and chairs at the pool to leave proper distance. They’ve also increased their cleaning procedures, having lifeguards wipe down tables after families leave, increasing the frequency of cleanings in the bathroom, and making available cleaning solution for pool members who want to use it, McBride said.
The pool opened Saturday, and McBride said during the first few days of opeation it’s been easy for the pool to stay well under the required 25% capacity cap.
“We are doing our very best to make sure that everybody is safe but having a great family time throughout the summer,” McBride said.
For people who are at greater risk of developing a serious illness from COVID-19, which includes people over age 65 and those with certain medical conditions, Kulkarni suggested they talk with a doctor or health care provider about the risk-benefit analysis of what public spaces are safe. For those at greater risk, he said, “you really need to think very carefully about the risk benefit ratio of whatever activity it is that you want to do.”
Overall, Kulkarni suggests planning as much as possible and learning whether a facility or space has taken steps to minimize the virus spread, instead of showing up and being surprised by a large crowd.
“If you can ahead of time find out, OK, what policies are they following, what are they doing to minimize spread of coronavirus, have they enhanced their disinfection procedures, have they established some social distancing rules, do they have a mask policy?” he said.
One new positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed Monday in Matagorda County, local officials said.
Since the pandemic started, 68 county residents have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The new case is a man between the ages of 60 and 70 years old, according to the Matagorda Regional Medical Center. There are 21 active cases of the disease, officials said. Forty-two people have made full recoveries and five residents have died.
No other counties in the Crossroads reported new cases as of 6 p.m. Monday, although most local counties have reduced how frequently they share updates on non-business days. As of 5 p.m. Friday, 157 Victoria County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Of those, 135 people have recovered. Seven people have died.