Is Swimming Safe?

The days are hot, and we need to cool down. But there are questions about safety. The country is opening different locations for people to enjoy the summer and get out more. We need exercise and activity. For older people, people with medical conditions and people who are concerned about the risks of COVID-19, it can be hard to tell what activities are safe.

The good news is, one of our favorite summer pastimes appears to be safe. The CDC has stated that "Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through recreational water." While a packed beach, or sitting poolside poses risks, actually swimming appears to be safe.

There are steps you have to take to be safe around pools. Face covers should be worn around the pool, but not when you are swimming. A wet mask is tough to breathe through. You shouldn't touch surfaces that come in contact with other people frequently. Sitting in public chairs at the pool is a bad idea. You shouldn't go to the pool if you are ill. Outdoor pools are much safer than those inside a gym or rec center because they have more fresh air. You should practice social distancing when not swimming.   

"It's important to remember that a brief, close encounter like passing someone in a pool [such as while swimming laps] is very low-risk," said Dr. David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt Univ. School of Medicine. "What we really consider to be a higher-risk encounter is being within six feet of someone for more than 10 to 15 minutes."

Swimming pools are treated with chemicals specifically meant to kill pathogens. "You could transiently hold your breath as you pass somebody while swimming, or turn your head to the opposite side," said Dr. Aronoff. "But swimming in the opposite direction from someone else in a neighboring swim lane is still a really low-risk interaction."

Sharing lanes is not advised, and you should swim in the opposite direction to the person in the lane next to you. It is also best to turn your head in the opposite direction to them as you breathe. If you are a water aerobics enthusiast, check to see if your normal class follows the CDC's safety guidelines. You may find yourself spread out more in the pool, but you can still participate in your favorite form of exercise.

Our behavior should change in other ways, as well. Avoiding the locker room is for the best, as is bringing your own towel from home. Additionally, bring extra masks in a plastic bag in case yours gets wet. Treat the pool/river/lake as a fun way to cool off and get exercise rather than as an outing, because areas outside of the water may be very populated. Additionally, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer is necessary to protect yourself after leaving the place. While you were just in the water, you most likely touched dry surfaces when you got out.   

"You should try your best to make plans to change clothes and shower at home if you have underlying health conditions," said Dr. Aronoff. "Contained, indoor spaces where people are close together are higher risk, and some venues are even keeping their locker rooms closed during the pandemic."

"Without proper social distancing, a water park or a pool might be a high-risk scenario," said Dr. Daniel Pastula, a UCHealth neuro-infectious disease expert. "It's not the risk of the water itself. It's the density of people. And, it's hard to wear a cloth mask when it's soaked."

Merely being in water won't protect you against the virus. Swimming is safe, but if you meet a friend to spend time together in a pool, you still need to practice social distancing. Call the pool you wish to visit and see when they are usually quieter.

"If you're swimming and a person near you coughs, you could inhale their droplets. That could spread the virus," Pastula said.

Get outside and enjoy the summer while stretching your muscles and getting your heart pumping. But do so safely. That way, you can have fun and stay fit while also protecting yourself.
July 10, 2020
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