A man swims in a public pool in Vienna, Austria, April 29, 2016.
Water itself is quite safe from the coronavirus, especially if it’s properly treated with chlorine.
But you could still catch or spread the illness if you’re clustering around others above water, on the pool deck, or in the locker room.
To reduce your risk, keep swimming, try to maintain distance from others while you do so, and avoid the locker room.
Just because you’re unlikely to catch the coronavirus while swimming, be aware of other pathogens and the risk of sunburn.
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It’s officially summer weather in America, and many families and recreationalists are eager to pack up their towels, goggles, and sunscreen and head to the pool.
But this year, pooltime, like pretty much all public activities, will look a bit different — if you want to pursue them safely as the country continues to battle the novel coronavirus.
Rather than a lazy day of chit-chatting with your toes in the water or chicken fighting with others, if you want to swim, you should do just that — and little else. While properly treated pools themselves are quite safe from the virus, close contact with others above water or in locker rooms comes with risks.
The coronavirus doesn’t spread through water
When it comes to viruses being passed through water, the ones experts worry about are those that are excreted in urine and feces and then accidentally ingested by swimmers, Krista Wigginton, an associate professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, told Insider.
There are three key reasons why that’s not a concern with the novel coronavirus.
For one, it’s a respiratory, not water-borne, illness, meaning it spreads when spit droplets fly through the air. Once they hit the water, they’re likely diluted enough to no longer be an issue.
“In general, respiratory pathogens don’t survive in the water,” Joseph Eisenberg, chair of the epidemiology department at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, told Insider.
Second, also because it’s a respiratory virus, catching it involves inhaling it, not swallowing it, Eisenberg said.
(Those two reasons alone are enough to make swimming in fresh or salt water a relatively safe activity, when it comes to avoiding the coronavirus at least.)
Indoor swimming pool
Terry J Alcorn/Getty Images
And finally, when you add chlorine to the mix, the coronavirus is a highly unlikely threat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.” It says that treating these types of facilities with chemicals including chlorine should “should inactivate the virus in the water.”
“Chlorinated pools, in particular, pose very little risk from swimming because these viruses are very susceptible to chlorine disinfection,” Wigginton said. “The bigger risk from all of these activities would be from interacting with others who are talking, coughing, or sneezing nearby.”
Keep moving, maintain your distance, and avoid locker rooms
As Wigginton noted, the risks with swimming come down to how close you are to others and for how long.
To stay safe, you want to avoid breathing on others, especially since you can’t wear a mask. The best ways to do that are to keep moving and to maintain distance between you and other swimmers.
It’s even better if you can choose an outdoor pool over an indoor one, since the virus prefers enclosed spaces.
It’s also a good idea to avoid the locker room, where you may not only be in close proximity to maskless strangers, but also indoors and touching surfaces like doorknobs and shower handles that can harbor the virus.
Many pools that are open are taking these precautions out of swimmers hands by instituting rules that enforce them. In Florida, for instance, lap swimmers can exercise in pools while following precautions like remaining six feet from other swimmers, limiting their time to one hour, and being prepared to swim only, since the showers and locker rooms are closed.
swimming pool boy goggles
You can still get other illnesses from swimming
Just because you’re unlikely to get coronavirus at the pool doesn’t mean the activity is totally risk-free.
Last year, there was an uptick of cryptosporidium infections at pools and water parks across the US, leading to symptoms like diarrhea and vomitting. Unlike coronavirus, the water-borne parasite is highly resistant to chlorine and can survive more than a week even in pools that are appropriately chlorinated and maintained, Insider’s Gabby Landsverk reported.
Other germs including Pseudomonas, shigella, giarda, norovirus, and Legionella can also be spread at the pool.
Your best defenses are to make sure your pool is routinely disinfected and kept at the proper pH level, shower with soap before and after entering a pool (even if that means now doing so at home right before leaving and right when returning), wash your swimsuit, and to do your best to avoid swallowing water.
And if you’re outdoors, remember to lather on the sunscreen since the threat and consequences of sunburn are real — especially after months largely staying home.
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