pools

The Ouray Hot Springs Swimming Pool and Fitness Center is “Still #cov19 closed,” according to its Facebook page. (Photo courtesy of Ouray Hot Springs/Facebook)

In the mood for a good soaking this Memorial Day weekend? Good luck.

Pool, spa and (for that matter) all of the Peaks Resort in Mountain Village are “closed in response to the COVID-19 emergency,” a message says. “We are practicing social distancing and supporting our employees’ health.”

The Ouray Hot Springs Pool is shuttered.

The several bubbling, “natural lithium” pools — and the sauna, the whole shebang — at Orvis Hot Springs Resort outside Ridgway are off limits until further notice.

But summer’s coming, and so is change. The governor’s office may soon allow indoor recreation facilities and pools to reopen. Montrose County has applied for a variance from the governor’s orders to open sooner than the rest of the state, and Ouray County officials are reportedly pondering whether to request a swimming-pool-related variance, as well.

Whenever local pools do reopen, experts say, it’s unlikely you might contract COVID-19 from one, particularly if it’s been disinfected with chlorine. (Orvis’ waters, famed for their lithium content, which “enhances rest, relaxation and rejunvenation,” are “never heated nor treated in any way,” its website says.)

Michelle Barron, M.D., medical director for infection prevention and control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, has gone for a soak in Orvis Hot Springs. Yet she didn’t seem overly worried about the potential for infection from its non-chlorinated waters.

No, Barron is more concerned about social distancing, or a lack thereof, for anyone who chooses to frequent a public pool, sauna or spa this season.

The virus is spread by respiratory droplets, she emphasized, “and six feet is about how far it can travel through spittle. But when you get in these things” (meaning a pool or sauna) “it can be potentially problematic, depending on how far you are from the next person.”

Some venues are trying to assist. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool, for example, has added six-foot distance-markers along the side of the pool, allowing you to tell how far you are from others. Which is helpful as far as it goes, “But what if you’re swimming and you come up next to someone else and you start to talk?” Dr. Barron said. “Or what if you find yourself seated next to a stranger? That’s when it becomes awkward. Are you really going to ask someone, you know, ‘Do you have a fever?’ I could imagine wearing a mask,” she added, “and it would probably get wet, and I don’t see that working. I’m a little concerned about people being in close proximity when the enjoyment level is high: you’re relaxing, you’re swimming, you turn around and, it’s, ‘Oh, hello,’ and you start chatting. The water is not going to be a vector for the virus as much, but I legitimately worry about the social distancing.”

Saunas and spas struck Barron as the most potentially problematic of all.

“There you are, taking deep breaths, trying to relax,” she observed, in close proximity with others. “That’s where you would really probably need a mask” which “could make it very, very odd or take away from the experience.”

Ultimately, enjoying a watery good time — like so much else when it comes to avoiding the virus, until we get a vaccine — involves a balancing act.

“It’s hard. There are so many good intentions in terms of wanting to live life again,” Barron summed up. “On the flip side, there’s a high price to pay for indulgence.”

The bottom line: “If you’ve decided the risk is OK, for you — I’m not trying to be judgmental — at least try not to infect any vulnerable family members.” (She recommends waiting 7-10 days after a tour of a public pool or spa before, as she put it,  “visiting grandma.”)

“The average incubation time is 1-14 days after being exposed to the virus before people begin to show symptoms, and most people will get sick around day five,” Dr. Barron said. “If you decide it’s not OK to avoid the pool” — you simply must go — “which is totally fine, make sure you don’t put vulnerable people at higher risk. I love Orvis; it’s so beautiful and relaxing and therapeutic,” she added. “Oh, I can imagine myself there right now.” But this year, “I think it will have to be in my mind.”