As summer approaches and lockdown measures slowly start to ease over the coming months, many people are understandably anxious to get outside to enjoy the fresh air and warm weather. But the spread of the novel coronavirus is far from over, and it's crucial to remain vigilant and educated in order to keep ourselves and others safe. For people who love to swim and lounge in the sun, this raises the question of whether or not pools are safe during COVID-19.
Under the UK government's current lockdown measures, public pools (your local Lido and leisure centres, for example) are still closed, but we know you're still wondering if it's safe to swim in lakes and in the ocean. The good news for those who have their own pool, or live on the coast? The risk isn't the water itself. According to the Centres For Disease Control in the US, there's no evidence that the virus can be spread through pools or hot tubs. Sandra Kesh, MD, deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in New York, told POPSUGAR that surfaces like diving boards at public pools also aren't a major concern. "The sequence of events that would need to happen for someone to leave a virus on a surface, like a diving board, and then another person pick it up and ingest it in some way to get infected is relatively unlikely," Dr. Kesh said.
Rather, the biggest risk at any public pool is your fellow pool goers. Dr. Kesh explained that, in a public setting where kids are running around, it can be difficult to maintain two metres of distance. "If you're at a public pool or lake, pay attention to how close you're getting to a person in the bathroom, at the snack stand, or while lounging on a towel," she advised, noting that people will most likely forego masks in the pool, and other safety measures may "go out the window" along with them. "Again, the transmission risk is not in the pool water because chlorine kills viruses," Dr. Kesh said. Her concern is transmission from contact in a public area where people are likely not wearing masks and may not be vigilant about practicing social distancing.
Carl J. Fichtenbaum, MD, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, agreed, noting that going to a public pool often means showering in a common location and using shared bathrooms. "Individuals with COVID-19 might transmit to others, and social distancing is hard in this setting," Dr. Fichtenbaum told POPSUGAR. "And wearing a mask isn't feasible. So, there may be a risk of transmission of COVID-19 when going to a public pool."
If you have your own pool, the risk is lower, as long as you're mindful of who you allow to swim. "It's important to maintain control of who is in your physical space," Dr. Kesh said. So, even at home, be careful that you don't get too close to others while you're not wearing a mask. Under the current guidelines in the UK, people are not permitted to visit other people's houses, so while it might be tempting to invite a friend over — don't. "If you're talking to someone closely, you risk an exposure," Dr. Kesh explained. "Remember that the main potential mode of transmission is through viral droplets in the air."
As of May 13, people living in England are permitted to drive to outdoor spaces for unlimited exercise, but it isn't 100 percent clear whether this includes rivers, lakes, and the sea. This does pose some difficulty for people living in coastal areas, which is why places like Cornwall have urged people to not flock to their beaches and risk overcrowding, and a second spike in infections.
If you do opt to visit a public swimming spot, Dr. Kesh emphasised the importance of washing your hands and keeping six feet of distance between yourself and others. She added that things like yelling, sneezing, and coughing "project molecules even further, which will make that distance you need to keep between people even further — sometimes even as far as 12 feet." So, the good news is that swimming isn't entirely out of the question this summer — but like every other social activity, it's going to be different than in years past.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the NHS, and GOV.UK.