Update: Summary of the NJ Department of Health’s Revised Standards for Opening and Operating Swimming Pools

May 12th, 2021 | Community Association Law Blog

By Eric F. Frizzell and Aleksandra Tasic, May 12, 2021

The New Jersey Department of Health (“DOH”) has published revised “Pools and Aquatic Recreation Facility Standards” as of May 7, 2021 that apply to community association swimming pools. For ease of reference we will refer to these revised standards as the “May 2021 Standards” in this summary. The May 2021 Standards replace the DOH standards that had been revised as of March 19, 2021. We summarize below key provisions that now apply under the May 2021 Standards as well as previous requirements that have been eliminated. As you will note, some provisions could benefit from further clarification. The DOH states that additional changes to capacity limits are expected to take effect on May 19th and that the DOH will issue revised guidance at that time.

Approval to Operate
There has been no change to these requirements. Prior to opening its pool, a community association must still submit to its local health authority a preoperational assessment checklist and Aquatics Facility Plan, and obtain the local health authority’s approval to operate the pool and associated facilities. An association must still develop and implement, and incorporate into the Aquatics Facility Plan, a “COVID-19 Pool Operation Prevention Plan (CPOPP)” that complies with the May 2021 Standards.

  • Staffing and Pool Facility Operations
    • Pool facilities are no longer required to implement an ambassador to monitor and encourage social distancing, nor monitor and regularly clean facility issued equipment and furniture.
      • However, facilities must still implement measures to ensure social distancing is maintained (including the requirements set forth below in “Social Distancing”).
    • The previous requirement to “hire/dedicate adequate staff” to perform specified roles has been modified to require that “Pool facilities shall designate adequate staff” for the outlined roles. In specific, pool facilities must still train, and equip the Pool Director (where required by the state regulations), lifeguard (where required by state regulations), and COVID contact person/point of contact on COVID awareness, routine cleaning, and disinfecting.
    • The role of the COVID contact person has been expanded from just a “person who will interface with the local health department” to now also include that the role should be filled by someone who is knowledgeable on COVID response, communication, and awareness activities, and should serve as the point of contact for the local health department, staff and patrons for contact tracing purposes.
      • This role may be performed by existing employees of the facility, owners of the facility,  as well as by volunteer residents of a community association (which our law firm does not recommend) but cannot be done by active lifeguards on duty.  
    • Where a lifeguard is required by the state regulations, an active on-duty lifeguard must only perform the role of lifeguard and must not perform any other roles, nor be required to monitor social distancing, face masks, handwashing, or similar duties. However, a lifeguard who is not on duty can perform these roles.
      • The requirements to screen staff upon entering the facility, take their temperature, and conduct a questionnaire of them have been eliminated.
  • Masks/Face Coverings and Social Distancing Strategies
    • Reinforces that facilities should provide their staff with masks/face coverings.
    • Clarifies that lifeguards performing lifesaving activities and actively monitoring bathers from the lifeguard stand are not encouraged to wear a mask/face covering, but should wear a mask while transitioning from post to post and walking amongst patrons.
    • Removes the requirement for proper and frequent hand washing by staff
    • Facilities should quadrant off the area around lifeguard stands to allow for social distancing between the unmasked lifeguards and patrons below the lifeguard chair.
    • Measures must be implemented to encourage social distancing among staff and patrons, away from non-household contacts, in and out of the water.
    • There are exceptions to the social distancing requirements for allowing for the rescue of distressed swimmers, performing CPR, or providing first aid.
  • Admittance and Access to Facility
    • Facilities must create a communication system for self-reporting of symptoms and notification of exposures and closure; the face mask, social distancing, and related safety measures implemented by Executive Order 192 Protect New Jersey’s Workforce should be followed.
    • Facilities must require that staff and patrons who are sick or have recently had a close contact with a person with COVID stay home and not enter the facility.
    • The previous requirement to designate entry and exit points to the bathing area, or to stagger access to avoid congregation, has been modified to, if possible, assign separate entry and exit points to encourage everyone to move in one direction and avoid crowds.
    • Facilities must monitor absenteeism of staff and consider maintaining a roster of trained back-up staff.
    • The requirements for signs have been modified – signs must be posted in “highly visible locations” such as at entrances and restrooms to promote steps that prevent the spread of the virus such as staying home when ill, masking, and social distancing. The May 2021 Standards contain a hyperlink to the CDC site (Print Resources | CDC) for printable signs.
    • The 50% maximum capacity limit for the facility and grounds must still be implemented on a non-discriminatory basis, and the capacity of hot tubs must still be reduced so that individuals maintain 6 feet of distancing , excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members or romantic partners.
    • The requirement to have a sign-in sheet for all staff and patrons has been removed.
    • Where possible, facilities should use reservation, sign in, advanced ticket sales and/or cancellation apps/systems (e.g., advance purchase online or by phone, or no-sign credit card payment) to manage and monitor patron attendance and flow throughout the day and address capacity limits.
      • The bather load table remains the same based on a 28 sq. ft/person calculation, however, the language has been clarified to indicate that bather load refers to the number of bathers directly in the water at any given time.
  • Infection Control Strategies
    • The May 2021 Standards provide a hyperlink to the EPA’s list of disinfectants for use against COVID (https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/about-list-n-disinfectants-coronavirus-covid-19-0 ) when considering cleaning products to use and designate for the COVID Emergency Care Space/Area.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures must be implemented to ensure that unspecified “surfaces” are cleaned at least daily.
      • The previous requirement regarding developing and implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures using EPA approved disinfectants and following CDC guidance that includes frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high traffic areas (Ex: restrooms, showers and changing rooms) and major touch points has been removed.
      • The previous requirement regarding the frequent sanitization of any areas open to the public, including routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, has been removed.
    • Facilities should discourage staff and patrons from sharing items that are difficult to clean, sanitize or disinfect or that are meant to come in contact with the face (e.g. goggles, snorkels, nose clips).
      • The previous requirement to limit the sharing of furniture and equipment for patrons’ use, including but not limited to lounge chairs, umbrellas, towels, and other equipment, as well as the requirement to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces several times daily, such as furniture and equipment after each use, has been removed.
    • Facilities are not prohibited from renting equipment which does not come into contact with someone’s face (i.e., lifejackets, kickboards, etc.) but must document a cleaning procedure that evidences the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Restrooms, Shower and Changing Rooms
    • The previous requirement for foot coverings within restrooms, showers, and locker rooms has been removed.
    • Communal showers should be fitted with installed barriers/partitions at least six feet apart
    • Patrons should be encouraged to come dressed to swim
    • Other previous requirements remain the same.
  • Communication Plan
    • Facilities must develop and implement an outreach plan as part of their CPOPP (COVID-19 Pool Operation Prevention Plan) that includes at a minimum:
      • Educating staff about when they should stay home (if exposed to COVID) or isolate (if ill or infected with the COVID virus), and when they can return to the venue;
      • Methods to ensure staff and patrons are aware of expectations for behavior at the pool facility and communicating to the pool facility if they become ill; and
      • Sign postage requirements at facility (which remain the same as the prior guidance including regarding hand washing, using hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol, not touching faces with unwashed hands, staying home when sick, and practicing social distancing, no face masks when in the water, etc.)
        • Signs must now provide that face masks are required when social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained from non-household contacts, whereas the prior guidance provided that signs should read that face masks are strongly encouraged.
  • The section on Indoor Ventilation remains substantially the same (i.e., conduct routine maintenance by HVAC professionals, try to increase the volume of outdoor air, select maximum filtration levels for HVAC units, consider installing portable air cleaners in enclosed spaces, keep doors and windows open where possible, etc.).
  • The section on Emergency Evacuation Procedure (providing that facilities must revise the emergency evacuation procedure to ensure social distancing protocols allow for safe evacuation and all applicable guidance contained herein) has been removed in its entirety.

This summary is intended to highlight key provisions/changes found in the DOH’s May 2021 Standards and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about any of the Standards and/or your association’s implementation of them, please consult with your association’s pool management company, property manager, and attorney.