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Alaska swimmers take a COVID-19 conscious approach to stay in the pool and compete

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 7:24 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska high school swim season will not conclude with its usual Alaska School Activities Association state championship meet, which was canceled earlier this year due to COVID-19. Instead, standout swimmers will compete in a state invite meet being held this weekend at Bartlett High School.

“This event’s place on the calendar all year has kept hundreds of kids and their families fully engaged,” wrote meet director Jodi McLaughlin in an email. “Committed to strong mitigation [efforts], avoiding things like carpools, sleepovers, movie hangouts, etc.”

McLaughlin along with Central Area Swimming said their goal all season has been to virtually eliminate “close contacts” in swim practice and meets. Since mid-September, McLaughlin said they’ve had three meets in Anchorage every Friday, and they’ve had no COVID-19 transmissions, adding they did have an occasional positive or close contact from outside of the swim teams.

This weekend’s meet will have 145 swimmers competing, 87 from Anchorage and 50 from the Mat-Su Valley, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak, Sitka and Fairbanks. This means the Bartlett pool will be about 15%-20% occupied at each session, according to organizers. The meet is organized to keep the number of people at the pool low, scheduling girls and boys to compete in separate sessions with a combined final session.

“We do feel confident that we have learned to balance the demands of COVID-19 mitigation with the sport of swimming safely,” McLaughlin wrote.

She credits the state’s swimming community success during the pandemic to their volunteers, a minimum of 25 needed at each swim meet, plus extensive mitigation plans. The mitigation plans require swimmers to arrive dressed, one-way traffic, distance and masks. The competition aspect involves heat marshalls taking groups of athletes to the blocks, four swimmers per lane, swimmers are masked until they get to the blocks where they put it into a Ziploc bag.

“Swimmers exhale into the water unless they are swimming backstroke,” wrote McLaughlin. “The CDC has told us from early on that the virus doesn’t survive in chlorinated water.”

Organizers do not allow swimmers to congregate on the wall and said there is little talking in the pool unmasked. While other swimmers wait to compete, they sit in the stands on taped X’s that are six feet apart.

“While many fun aspects are missing, the kids have risen to the occasion strongly desiring to continue to train and compete.”

With limited numbers of people allowed at Bartlett to view the meet, they’ve installed a live feed for parents, families and friends to watch from home. The state championship invite is a two-day meet that will finish on Saturday.

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