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Is It Safe to Go to the Pool?

pool

June 12, 2020 -- Ready to dive into summer swim season? Or does the thought of a pool full of potential COVID-19 make you sweat?

As states begin to reopen pools, many are wondering if it’s safe to head back into the water. The CDC says a properly maintained pool using chlorine or bromine is safe.

“There’s really no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through water in pools or hot tubs or water play areas,” says Grant Baldwin, PhD, co-leader of the CDC’s Community Interventions and At-Risk Task Force, COVID-19 Response. “Proper operation and disinfection of the pool environment should kill the virus.”

A broad review of data on coronaviruses in water environments released online ahead of print in the July 2020 issue of Water Research upholds the notion that COVID-19 doesn’t spread thorough water.

But before you grab your suit and do a cannonball, remember a virus-free pool doesn’t mean a risk-free swim season. You could still catch COVID-19 from touching a contaminated surface or with person-to-person contact.

“If you’re in the pool in close proximity to somebody and they cough, sneeze, or scream in front of you, and there’s a swapping of respiratory droplets, that would put you at risk,” says Baldwin. “But that’s not because you’re in a chlorinated pool, it’s because you’ve broken the social distancing issue.”

Before You Go

When deciding what’s safe and what’s not for your family this summer, Baldwin suggests you check your local, state, and community orders and ask yourself some core COVID-19 questions.

  • Are you or anyone you live with over age 65 or at risk of severe illness? The risk of getting a serious infection from COVID-19 increases with age and certain medical conditions.
  • Do you and those you will be interacting with follow the same steps to prevent infection, such as wearing masks and washing hands?
  • Will the activity put you in close contact with others? If so, can you maintain 6 feet of social distance in a reasonable way?
  • Avoid sharing items, but if you have to, are you prepared to clean and disinfect them between each use?
  • What’s the current level of COVID-19 spread in your community? “The lower the level of community transmission, the safer it is for you to go out,” says Baldwin.

While You're There

Your pool bag should have plenty of hand sanitizer and separate drink bottles, towels, toys, goggles, and floats or pool noodles for each person. And yes, protective face masks. But, with a caveat.

Certain masks, like those used in snorkeling, are made for the water. In fact, some scientists are repurposing snorkeling masks to use as protective gear for health care workers. But cloth masks and swimming don’t mix. The CDC says you should never wear a cloth mask while in the water. A cloth mask becomes heavy when wet, and that makes breathing difficult.

Do wear a mask when on the pool deck, entering restrooms and other public buildings, or interacting with others when you’re not in the water.

Baldwin encourages pool goers to maintain 6 feet of social distancing in and out of the pool. Not sure how close is too close? Use a pool noodle as a rough guide.

Remember, specific COVID-19 pool rules vary from state to community to neighborhood. Even if a state or local ban is lifted, homeowners’ associations have the authority to keep a pool closed if they feel it can’t be safely operated. To promote safety and reduce the spread of germs, reopened pools have removed all pool furniture or have spaced seating apart to allow for social distancing. Some swimming pools are limiting capacity and require reservations.

After You Leave

While chlorine appears to inactivate the coronavirus, taking a dip in a pool doesn’t take the place of good old-fashioned hand-washing. After leaving the pool, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Clean and disinfect any pool toys, chairs, and other equipment that you brought with you.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 12, 2020

Sources

Grant Baldwin, PhD, co-leader, CDC’s Community Interventions and At Risk Task Force, COVID-19 Response.

Water Research: “Coronavirus in water environments: Occurrence, persistence and concentration methods -- A scoping review.”

CDC: “COVID-19 and Water.”

Ohio Department of Health: “Responsible RestartOhio: Local and Public Pools and Aquatic Centers.”

Tufts Now: “Pitching in to Create a New Kind of Safe Mask.”

Community Associations Institute: “Community Associations and COVID-19.”

Water Health Council: “Is It Safe to Swim in a Pool During the Summer of Coronavirus?

Georgia Department of Public Health: “COVID-19 Guidance: Public Swimming Pools.”

CDC: “How to Protect Yourself & Others.”

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