Watersafe facilities in Seal Beach and Los Alamitos reopened Nov. 7 from an intensive cleaning following the detection of the parasite Cryptosporidium in the water of two of its pool. The school shut down on Oct. 30 to conduct tests through a private lab. Results came back on Nov. 1 showing the presence of “shells of the de-activated organisms,” according to a statement from Watersafe.
Last month, Watersafe conducted hyperchlorination of its pools after a student tested positive for Cryptosporidium, also known as Crypto. Hyperchlorination is a process required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to kill Crypto. The Nov. 1 test results were positive for dead Crypto in the pool in Seal Beach and at the indoor pool at the Los Alamitos facility, according to Nathan Najarian, Director of Watersafe. Rather than let the dead pathogen be broken down and filtered from the pools over time, as allowed by the CDC, Watersafe will instead drain the pools, scrub them and replace the filter element. They will then retest the water to ensure there are no remnants of the organisms.
“We stand by our statement that we will not open without a negative test, even if the Crypto left is dead,” Najarian wrote in a text message on Nov. 1.
This all comes after three students of the Seal Beach location were diagnosed with Cryptosporidium which can cause intestinal illness in humans. Two more possible cases are being looked at, according to Najarian.
It’s not conclusive where the children contracted Cryptosporidium but it can be spread from swallowing water contaminated with feces containing the parasite. Crypto is resistant to chlorine and can survive in well-maintained pools. Any students who are experiencing symptoms, such as watery diarrhea, should contact their doctor.
For more details on Cryptosporidium, see the Information Box at https://www.sunnews.org/latest-news/what-is-cryptosporidium/
This is the latest development in what has been a frustrating and sometimes confusing few weeks for staff and customers of Watersafe. The school opened in 1988 and serves around 1,100 students at the Seal Beach location.
It’s the school’s first time dealing with cases of Cryptosporidium and staff have sought guidance from the local governing health agency, the CDC, other swim schools and doctors.
“We’re talking to other swim schools, different pool companies. This is such a rare occurrence, nobody really knows. They are all a little confused about it,” Najarian said. The CDC reported 32 outbreaks caused by Cryptosporidium linked to swimming pools and water playgrounds across the U.S. in 2016. There has not been an outbreak in at least six years in Orange County, according to the OC Health Care Agency.
Health agency didn’t test
Watersafe has been working with the OC Health Care Agency’s Environmental Health Division, which regulates swim schools, since last month. Watersafe requested the pool water be tested for Cryptosporidium but when an inspector visited the pool on October 24, a test was not done. In an email, a representative from the agency wrote the test was not done because it felt Watersafe had proactively followed the CDC recommendations for hyperchlorination to kill the parasite and CDC’s guidance does not recommend testing the water for Cryptosporidium after hyperchlorination is completed. The representative explained that the “treatment may kill crypto, but our testing doesn’t tell whether the germ is dead, just whether it’s still there or not.” Watersafe then sought out a private company that would conduct more extensive testing. On Oct. 30, Najarian drove water samples to Biovir lab in Benicia, about 400 miles away.
“We weren’t satisfied.” Najarian said in explaining why the school decided to test for Cryptosporidium on its own. “There’s another step out there to take and that is testing the water. We understand what they said about hyperchlorinating the pool but we just felt like it fell short of this step.”
Timeline of events
The mother of the first swimmer to contract Cryptosporidium notified the school on Oct. 9. On Oct. 12-15, the school shut down and conducted “a 64-hour sanitation regiment 4 times stronger than the inactivation period required by the CDC,” according to an email from the school. Najarian said the school upgraded its UV sanitation lights that kill pathogens at the Seal Beach location from Oct. 21-23.
On Monday, Oct. 23, Watersafe notified the OC Health Care Agency that a student had been diagnosed with Cryptosporidium, according to the agency. When asked why Watersafe didn’t call the agency earlier, Najarian said: “We did not initially contact the health department because we did not have evidence that the Cryptosporidium had been introduced to our pool.” According to the agency, pool operators are required by the California Code of Regulations to report to the local environmental health office when two or more pool users have reported diarrhea, as well as follow proper disinfection procedures.
Also on Oct. 23, the mother of the first student who became infected posted a message to the social networking website Nextdoor.com. Lisa Quinn called her post a “public service announcement” and wrote she was “reluctant to posting” but felt Watersafe had not notified their customers about her two-year-old daughter’s diagnosis as she had requested.
“I wanted the parents to be notified so that the issue could be solved and no other child infected,” Quinn wrote. She also wrote that she herself had caught Cryptosporidium, likely from taking care of her sick daughter. Quinn wrote that she is in the third trimester of a high-risk pregnancy and had to be hospitalized twice in one week because of the illness and “fluid loss.” She also accused the school of being dishonest about the actual cause for the closure from Oct. 12-15. The post received 29 responses on the site. Many commenters expressed concern for Quinn and her daughter, some were critical and others cautioned rushing to judgement before all the facts were in.
A representative from the OC Health Care Agency wrote in an email message that there is no legal requirement that a pool operator notify their customers of an illness but added, “Watersafe Swim School proactively reached out to their customers by email and also posted a sign at the location.” Najarian declined to comment specifically about Quinn citing privacy concerns. “I have a general and personal policy about not speaking about individual clients to others,” he wrote in an email on Oct. 30.
On Oct. 24, the school sent out an email message to customers notifying them of the first Cryptosporidium diagnosis and the sanitation process that took place Oct. 12-15. An inspector from the OC Health Care Agency also visited the school on Oct. 24, as detailed above.
The second case of Cryptosporidium was confirmed on Oct. 26. The school closed Oct. 27 and reopened on Oct. 28 after consulting with the OC Health Care Agency. The school sent out another email message to customers with an update on Oct. 27. The third case was confirmed on Oct. 30 and customers were notified with an automated phone call and an email message of the closures and plan for testing.
On Nov. 1, Watersafe revealed that tests showed dead Cryptosporidium in the pool in Seal Beach and in the indoor pool in Los Alamitos. The school sent an email message to customers saying the facilities would remain closed until Nov. 7 for more cleaning and retesting.
Response from public
In an interview on Oct. 28, Najarian said the response from customers had been “across the spectrum.” Some parents called with concerns and questions, others have been vocal about their support and understanding. Najarian said about half a dozen decided to take a break from attending Watersafe due to the Cryptosporidium issue. He said students who take a break will have their spots saved for them. On Nov. 1, Najarian said all canceled lessons due to the closures will be credited to customers’ accounts.
Seal Beach resident Angana Pathak has two daughters who attend Watersafe. She expressed disappointment in how the situation had been handled by the school.
“I would have liked if Watersafe would have communicated that they cleaned out the pool when they had instead of hearing from them after it had been posted on social media,” Pathak said in an email on Oct. 29. She said she will continue to take her children to the school but “with caution.”
“I think telling their customers sooner would have mitigated a lot of backlash,” said mother of three Nina Vadecha. “It’s very possible the child didn’t contract Crypto at Watersafe but the fact that they went ahead and sanitized for the parasite and then told everyone after the fact is a little unsettling.”
“I feel badly for the child who has been very sick and the pregnant mom who was in danger. I hope they recover quickly,” wrote local mother Aimee Wing who has one son. She said she will continue to go to Watersafe and supports the school.
“I trust their process. Those teachers put their bodies in that water day after day, eight hours a day,” Wing wrote in an email Oct. 30.
Another local mother whose child attends Watersafe said the risk of getting sick from swimming at a pool populated with young kids has always been in the back of her mind.
“I do feel [Watersafe] has taken a lot of steps to make the situation right, but it is still a little scary to think this could happen to my child. I hope out of this happening, Watersafe becomes more educated and proactive on what they need to do moving forward to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Najarian said the incident has prompted Watersafe to refocus on its procedures and processes. “It’s a good time to look at all of this and give this issue center stage and make sure everything is as sanitary as can be.”