By now, you may have heard that the novel coronavirus can live up to three days on some surfaces. But what about in your swimming pool? Is there any way you could get the virus from your afternoon dip?
The short answer: You probably won’t get the virus from pool water. But a pool is still a risky environment as far as social distancing and person-to-person transmission are concerned.
So before you head for a swim in your backyard or community pool, read on for expert advice on how to keep yourself and other swimmers safe.
Pool water doesn’t spread the virus, but people do
“If you look at what the CDC has to say, there’s no evidence that [the coronavirus] spreads in water,” says Bill Carroll, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University. “It can’t reproduce in water. This is not like a food-borne virus that you can eat, and it’s not a water-borne virus. This is an inhaled virus, and in order to be infected, you have to be inhaling it.”
Plus, the chemicals in your pool or hot tub can help kill the virus. “Chlorine in pool water inactivates the virus so it is no longer infectious,” says Dr. Chris J. Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council. “A properly maintained pool protects swimmers from the virus in pool water.”
But outside of the water, the virus can spread among people—and the risk is especially high at a community aquatic center or an apartment building pool where lots of swimmers come and go. “If you’re going to be exposed to the coronavirus, it’s because you’re going to the pool and there’s other people there and you’re not social distancing,” Carroll says.
Be smart about social distancing at the pool
If you go to a community or friend’s pool, remember to practice social distancing and avoid coming within 6 feet of anyone you don’t live with. “If possible, sanitize chairs before sitting down,” Wiant says. “Minimize time in the locker room by coming dressed to swim, and shower at home both before and after swimming.”
When it comes to your face mask, you should never wear a cloth mask when you’re underwater. “If your head is going to be underwater, a mask isn’t going to do a thing for anybody,” Carroll says. But if you’re standing in the shallow end or lounging poolside, be sure to wear your mask to protect other people.
You can also call the pool ahead of time to ask what precautions are being taken to keep people safe, like limiting the number of swimmers and spacing lounge chairs at least 6 feet apart. And remember: If you’re feeling sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, stay home.
Normal pool maintenance should be enough to inactivate the virus
Pool water maintenance guidelines haven’t changed in the wake of COVID-19, Wiant says. If you’re responsible for maintaining a public pool, follow the CDC guidelines and check the pH and chlorine levels twice a day, or more if you have a lot of swimmers in the water.
For a residential pool, “there’s nothing special you need to do” beyond your normal weekly maintenance, Carroll says. Stick to your usual pool cleaning routine: Test your pH at least once a week and make sure you have plenty of chlorine available. It’s also a good idea to hyperchlorinate once a week to ward off cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that can make swimmers severely ill.
Pool vs. beach: Which option is better?
If you’re worried about coming into contact with other people at the pool and you live near a natural body of water, you may be considering heading to the beach instead.
Properly maintained pools offer an advantage with its chlorine and chemicals that inactivate the virus, but “beaches have large volumes of moving water that dilute virus particles efficiently and reduce risk of exposure to the virus,” Wiant says. Ultimately, “the safest place to swim is wherever there are the fewest people.”
Before you head to the beach, check with your local health department to make sure the water has been tested recently and is safe for swimming.
Please, please, please: Don’t pee in the pool
We hope it goes without saying, but you really need to adhere to proper hygiene while in the pool.
“Shower before swimming, and never pee in the pool,” Wiant says. “The contaminants people bring into the water use up the chlorine, making less available to disinfect against viruses, like the coronavirus, and bacteria.”