A 5-year-old named Stella practices her kick at the Brentwood YMCA, during a "soft opening" ahead of Memorial Day weekend. And a health reporter asks a leading question: "You showered first, right?"
"Say 'yeah,' " Heather Clendenin instructs her daughter, encouraging a fib.
As public pools open for the season, health officials are encouraging cleanliness as a way to decrease the risk of swimmers getting sick from harmful germs.
But not only do most people skip the pre-pool shower, more than half of respondents (51%) told surveyors this spring they think of the pool as a communal bath, where chlorine does the dirty work.
At the YMCA, the pool rules start with "No Running." No. 2 on the list instructs swimmers to shower first.
"Whenever I've seen that, I thought it would be for like people that are like, dirty, like visible dirt," Clendenin says. "Not someone who is just walking in from their car."
But everyone is unclean, especially the little ones.
"Children can carry up to the amount of four pennies of fecal matter on themselves," says Michael Collins, property coordinator at the Brentwood Y, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control seemingly meant to scare swimmers into personal hygiene.
Those flecks of poo can be neutralized by chlorine, but Collins says that uses up the chemicals that are also needed to balance out all the sweat, deodorant and makeup on everyone else. And the chlorine's most important job is to kill dangerous germs no one can see.
The CDC says:
- Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
- Shower before you get into the water.
- Don’t pee or poop in the water.
- Don’t swallow the water.
So while the Water Quality and Health Council says a 1-minute rinse does a lot of good, Collins encourages soaping up, especially private parts.
He admits that the pre-pool showering rule is rarely enforced at the Y. It would be extremely difficult, especially when it matters most, during the peak season.
Collins can compensate with chemicals but he hopes showering could become standard practice.
And don't get him started on peeing in the pool.