Macon water park reopens after visitors complain they got sick

An employee skims the junior Olympic lap pool at Sandy Beach Water Park Monday morning prior to opening.
An employee skims the junior Olympic lap pool at Sandy Beach Water Park Monday morning prior to opening. jvorhees@macon.com

Sandy Beach Water Park, which closed over the weekend after several visitors ended up in the hospital, reopened Monday.

Kayanna Banks, owner of the No Child Left Without summer camp, brought a group of 23 youngsters to the park Friday. She told The Telegraph on Monday that four have been diagnosed with ear infections and six or seven with eye infections since their visit. Banks said she first thought something was off when she noticed that “all of the kids’ eyes were like a bloodshot red.”

At first, Banks assumed it was a normal reaction to the chlorine in the pools. But after Banks received a call from one camper’s father that he had taken his daughter to the emergency room for extreme eye swelling, she alerted the water park’s management, and they decided to temporarily shut down the park Saturday to bring in the health department to test the water.

Sunday’s tests came back mostly normal — the water slide and the lap pool both scored a perfect 100. Inspectors docked five points from the lazy river for irregular chlorine levels; four points from the wave pool for high levels of cyanuric acid, which could make chlorine less effective; and 15 points from the Splash Pad for low disinfectant levels.

Because the health department didn’t conduct the tests right away, conditions in the water could have changed between Friday and Sunday.

Jeff Ellis Management, the water park’s management company, could not be reached for comment.

It’s unclear if the girls actually got sick from the water park, but Landrous Rainey said he won’t be going back anytime soon.

When Rainey picked up his daughter from camp Friday afternoon, her eyes were red and puffy, he said. By around 7:30 p.m., 7-year-old Laiden Rainey’s eyes had swollen to the point that she couldn’t open them.

“I was laying down with her in my arms. She kept crying. She kept crying,” Rainey said.

So Rainey and his wife rushed their daughter to the Coliseum Northside Hospital emergency room, where doctors diagnosed Laiden with corneal abrasions, or scratches to the surfaces of the eye that can cause redness and irritation. The staff at Coliseum suggested the Raineys take their daughter to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where Rainey said Laiden was diagnosed with chemical burns.

Laiden got home from the hospital Saturday night, but she’s been recovering in the dark while her eyes heal. Healing should take about 72 hours.

“She has to have shades on her face, even in the house,” Rainey said.

Other campers went to the hospital as a precaution after Laiden’s diagnosis, Banks said.

Water park visitors face several potential health risks, according to Michael Hokanson, public information officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health North Central District.

He said water recreation illnesses spread by germs in the water can cause infections to the eyes, ears, skin or respiratory system. Hokanson said diarrhea is also a common ailment that can affect swimmers if germ-killing chemicals in the water aren’t at proper levels. In addition to viruses and bacteria spread through the water, Hokanson said particles of sand, human hair or even glass can cause eye irritation.

“It’s just important to consider those things as a risk if you’re going to interact with water in a public space where there might be particles floating around that you’re not aware of,” he said.

But Hokanson said there are a few ways pool and water park visitors can take precautions to stay healthy. He said parents should advise their kids not to drink the water, and visitors should immediately get out of the pool if they notice a burning or stinging sensation.

“If the water doesn’t look right, don’t get in,” Hokanson said. “Talk to the management of that facility if it looks off to you.”

If you want to know more about a pool or water park before you visit, you can look up its health inspection score at ga.healthinspections.us/stateofgeorgia.

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/samantha.max.9 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.