Going to the Beach or Pool? What to Know About COVID-19 Risk

  • The CDC says there’s no evidence the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread in pools.
  • Experts say the high saltwater content of ocean water should likely kill the virus.
  • But there’s still a risk if people are densely packed together.

For most Americans, Memorial Day weekend is cause for celebration as school is almost out and most beaches and pools are open.

But in the wake of COVID-19, this year’s Memorial Day celebrations are going to be a bit different. While much of the country is reopening its beaches and pools for the festivities, there are still valid concerns over how to do so safely.

The first question that comes to mind is, “Is COVID-19 waterborne?”

Is COVID-19 transmitted through water?

“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,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is because proper operation and maintenance of these facilities usually requires disinfectant that inactivates the virus.

But what about the ocean?

“It’s unclear if ocean water can spread the virus,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency physician, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “In areas where seawater mixes with wastewater that is contaminated with the virus, it’s theoretically possible that the action of the waves could aerosolize it into particles with coastal winds, bringing it onto the beach itself. That said, the actual chance of this occurring is likely minimal.”

In addition, the high saltwater content of the ocean should likely kill the virus, though researchers are currently studying this to reach a definitive answer.

While the virus isn’t likely to be waterborne, that doesn’t mean there is no risk if you go to the pool or beach. The volume of people that will be out and about on beaches or at pools, congregating together, and perhaps throwing caution to the physical distancing wind is worrying officials.

“We can’t stress enough that the overwhelming majority of transmission occurs person-to-person, in particular when people are within 6 feet of each other,” said Dr. David Goldberg, internist and infectious disease specialist at New York-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The risk of water itself seems to be very low. I am much more concerned about other swimmers,” he added.

This is the most important point: The key to staying safe this Memorial Day weekend will be how close you and your family are to other people, and what hygiene precautions you take.

Beach or pool?

There’s no scientific data to prove if the beach or pool is safer, seeing as there’s no science to support that COVID-19 is waterborne. According to experts, it comes down to whatever you feel comfortable with.

“In general I’d say the beach is safer than the pool for two reasons,” said Goldberg. “One, the water is so much more diluted that if by any chance any virus gets into the water, it is rapidly diluted because it’s such a large body. It’s also easier at a beach to keep 6 feet away.” He adds that most pools on a hot weekend get very crowded. It’s difficult to stay 6 feet apart when kids are excited and running around. At the beach, it’s usually much easier to find a spot in which to separate yourself.

Proper hygiene, protective masks, and social or physical distancing will be what keep you and your family safe over Memorial Day weekend, and every day, for that matter, as we’re still in the throes of navigating the course of the virus.

“It’s still vital that people practice good hand hygiene and social distancing while at pools or in hot tubs,” said Glatter. “This is critical and may be one factor in spread in these settings if these practices are not emphasized and enforced.”

How to be safe at the pool or beach

Coronavirus rules and regulations vary from state to state and will likely be slightly different at your local beach or pool. It’s important to check the rules before you go. The CDC suggests picking a beach or pool that’s close to home, as well. Taking a road trip is not recommended at the moment.

Other safety tips include:

  • bringing disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer
  • practicing physical distancing
  • wearing a mask, unless you can safely be at least 6 feet away from others

It’s also important to note that you and your family may not have access to certain public facilities like restrooms or concessions. These places have many high-touch surfaces that could carry droplets that contain the virus. A March study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that the virus can live on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.

The takeaway? Visiting a beach or pool is a personal decision that only you can make for yourself and your family. There’s no scientific evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through water. That said, visiting the beach or pool is not an isolated event. There are many other factors at play. It’s important to remember safety protocol and evaluate any potential risk so that we all can have a safe, healthy, and happy Memorial Day weekend, which will lead to a safe, healthy, and happy summer season.

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