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Pool management mixed on easing of rules on masks

ST. LOUIS – The rules on masks may be loosening up, but at some area pools, management isn’t ready to take the jump. At other pools, they’re all in.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced recently that those who are fully vaccinated may go without masks inside and outside in most circumstances. But as the summer swimming season nears, there’s a mix between those who have changed their rules and those who haven’t.  

“We will still require people to wear masks when in public, unless they’re eating, drinking, exercising or swimming,” said Kim Hedgpeth, Kirkwood’s superintendent of recreation. That’s in keeping with a policy for all Kirkwood city buildings that was written early in the pandemic. So it’s the same for the Kirkwood Aquatic Center.

However, “We have loosened it up a little bit at the pool,” Hedgpeth said. “Swimmers aren’t required to stay in their pods.” 

And, in another change, pools are allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity.

There are some chances in the pools operated  by the Gateway Region YMCA, including the O’Fallon Park Rec Complex and the Carondelet Park Rec Complex in St. Louis.

The YMCA, which had been operating its indoor pools, now will open its outdoor pools, said Matt Thompson, the district vice president of the Gateway Region YMCA.

“Outdoor pools are definitely something that families have been yearning to and wanting to get back to for a year,” Thompson said. 

Under new rules, those who are fully vaccinated won’t have to wear masks. They will be asked to observe social distance rules. 

The YMCA is asking those who are not vaccinated to wear masks, including when they’re moving around the pool and going to the restroom. When they’re in their chairs on the pool deck or in their family group, they don’t have to wear masks.

“When individuals are in the water and in a chlorinated experience, they do not have to wear masks,” Thompson explained.  

But the YMCA won’t be asking people whether they’ve gotten their shots. 

“We’re not going to get into the business of asking folks for their vaccination cards,” Thompson said. “We’ll be based off the honor system, and we’re really asking individuals within the community to make the right choice within that, and if you’re fully vaccinated, then you’re free and clear to go vaccinated.”

At the Heman Park Swimming Pool in University City, a conservative approach remains.

University City Assistant City Manager Gabby Macaluso said people must wear masks that cover their mouth and nose while they’re in the pool lobby, going to and from concessions and while they’re going to and from restrooms. Pool users don’t have to wear masks while they’re moving to enter or after they get out of the pool.

Six feet of social distance is required between groups on the pool deck, and the indoor lockers and showers aren’t available right now. However, people can use outdoor showers.

Also, the Heman Park Pool is not providing seating right now. Members are urged to bring their own seating. 

There will be no daily admission sales for now, but this rule will be reassessed throughout the season, Macaluso said.  

“At this time, we want to prevent crowding so we can maintain social distance and give our staff time to get acclimated and well-versed in our operations and procedures,” Macaluso said in an email.

Only Centennial Commons members and Heman Pool Season Pass holders will be allowed in the pool. Members of Centennial Commons are also members of Heman Park Swimming Pool.

Those who bought a season pass after May 1, 2019, are having their passes extended through the 2021 season.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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