As temperatures rise and summer sets in, we will be looking for fun ways to keep us cool and going for a swim does a great job. However, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of most public amenities including swimming facilities and most people have been left wondering how safe it is to return to these spaces as they reopen.
How does swimming influence your risk of spreading or catching Covid-19?
According to the CDC, there’s no evidence that Covid-19 can be spread through water. However, it’s essential to maintain good water sanitation through disinfectants such as chlorine in order to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses in water. Moreover, it is important to observe safe swimming practices, including:
- Not sharing beach or pool towels
- Not swimming with open wounds or contagious infections such as hepatitis A and pink eye
- Showering before swimming
Studies show that Covid-19 is primarily spread through close person to person contact, mainly through droplets produced by sneezing and coughing. Therefore, swimmers should adhere to social distancing guidelines both in and out of the pool. On March 10, 2020, the CDC reported that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 has not been detected in water used for consumption.
Does chlorine inactivate the Covid-19 virus?
Proper pool operation and maintenance through water treatment techniques that use disinfection (The average amount of bromine and chlorine) and filtration should inactivate or remove the Covid-19 virus. But because most public swimming pools are housed inside public spaces such as gym facilities, that presents possibility for infection even before you reach the water.
Therefore, you should assume that everyone is infected and anything you touch could be could be contaminated. This puts swimmers in a tight spot because it’s hard to get in and out of the swimming pool without interacting with other people or touching anything.
Think about it; you are reaching for door handles and signing in or otherwise using the card scanner. You’re using the restroom, touching communal shower taps and putting your clothes on a bench or in a locker. There are plenty of surfaces for the tiny virus to cling to.
How long can Coronavirus Survive on Surfaces?
Research shows that Covid-19 can survive on surfaces like steel and plastic for up to 3 days. Tiny droplets can also hang in the air for up to 30 minutes. But, it’s essential to keep in mind that the risk of transmission from hard surfaces is fairly low if you are practicing good hand washing hygiene.
Since the bigger concern is other people at the pool, it’s probably best to avoid organized group events where the risk for viral transmission is higher. Remember, not everyone with Covid-19 shows symptoms of infection. Therefore, the goal should be to keep people at least 6 feet apart from each other both in and out of the water.
Swimming Safely – How Can You Mitigate Risk of COVID-19?
The CDC has set out guidelines on swimming safety as corona virus continues to circulate. However, the final decision on reopening public swimming areas will be up to the organizations, schools, cities, and counties that oversee them. For areas that are already reopening swimming areas, the CDC has issued recommendations for disinfection and hygiene to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Recommendations for Pool Facilities and Staff
- Promote hand hygiene: Swimmers and facility staff should be encouraged to wash hands frequently. Facility staff should make sure adequate sanitizer and water are available.
- Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces: Use EPA-approved supplies made specifically for the type of aquatic facility you’re operating. Label and separate clean items from equipment and furniture that still need to be cleaned and disinfected. Follow proper safety and ventilation measures when using chemicals such as disinfectants.
- Promote good ventilation: Use fans and other devices to introduce outdoor air into indoor swimming facilities.
- Rearrange furniture and change the layout and spacing on the pool deck to promote social distancing of 6 feet or more.
- Use visual cues such as signs and physical barriers like taped areas to promote social distancing in and out of the water.
- Stagger shared space use and shifts: Communal spaces such as staff break rooms, dressing areas and locker rooms should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Use of shared spaces as well as shifts for employees should be staggered.
- Offer education: Make loudspeaker announcements and post signs offering advice on how patrons and staff can prevent the spread of infection.
- Train staff: Staff at swimming facilities should be on the lookout to ensure that visitors are practicing hand hygiene, social distancing and using face coverings. Designate specific staff members to address issues about Covid-19.
- Staff safety: Make plans to accommodate sick staff. Be sure to monitor the health of employees and make plans for backup staffing and call-offs.
- Consider limitations: For instance, facilities may consider removing or temporarily closing some structures, like playing and climbing units.
- Wait to wash: If the facility has a confirmed Covid-19 case, all affected spaces should be closed off and facilities should wait 24 hours before performing disinfection and cleaning.
Covid-19 – Recommendations for visitors to Swimming Pool
- Face coverings: Patrons and staff should wear face coverings whenever they are out of the water, especially when it’s difficult to observe the recommended social distancing guidelines.
- Practice good respiratory etiquette by covering sneezes and coughs.
- Stop sharing items like floatation devices, food and pool toys. Shared items should be disinfected and cleaned between each use.
- No parties: Avoid large gatherings in and out of the water.
- Report and react: All water facilities should adhere to their local processes for reporting and responding to Covid-19 cases.
- Stay home if you’ve been diagnosed with or exposed to Covid-19.
Facilities that operate aquatic parks and swimming pools should consult their public health departments before and as they reopen. Reopening practices vary widely, with some local authorities waiting to make final decisions.