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'Health Guards' help swimmers socially distance at North Little Rock public pools

Pool water generally kills the virus. It's the playing and lounging around the pool that's a problem. Health guards help prevent that.

Re-opening public places has put an intense focus on safety. Whether it's wearing masks or changing our offices, job descriptions are rapidly developing, including public pools, where "health guards" work on the deck the way lifeguards monitor from tall chairs. Both are trying to keep swimmers healthy this summer.

"It's helping people stay safe and makes people feel comfortable," said Keandra Tillman, a part-time health guard at North Heights Community Center in North Little Rock.

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She signed up for the task of scrubbing surfaces and separating swimmers while getting help from signage on the deck and screening at the entrance.

"We are required to help everyone maintain six feet outside and inside the pool," she said before opening the gates to about 25 eager bathers Wednesday. "Although it may seem hard, we've got it under control."

The science right now says coronavirus and chlorine don't mix, but it's all the stuff around the pool that's the problem. Swimmers don't need to wear a mask in the pool and little kids are okay, but crowds of people you don't know in or by the pool are just like crowds in a park or playground.

It means health guards might have to break up that game of Marco Polo.

"It's a little difficult, I guess, because you can't be as close," Tillman said of the blind-man's bluff, call-and-response game. "But we have seen kids play Marco Polo here recently within the six-feet distance and it looked good."

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The lifeguards and health guards work as a team. Hours are limited at the city's two pools and one splash pad. North Heights has a pair of sessions beginning at noon Wednesday through Saturday. There's a deep cleaning between the two periods.

There are also limits on how many can be in the pool at a time, but after an anxious spring, its a small price to pay to get relief in the long, hot summer.

"They're happy we're open," said Tillman. "They have something to come do. We have the pool. Most of them come with their friends and their family and they're having a good time at the pool."