Coronavirus: Are Swimming Pools Safe?

As the weather heats up, many Americans have gone out for a swim to break the monotony of social distancing, but some are concerned that this could lead to a rise in new coronavirus cases. So far, the CDC says that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can live in water, and chlorinated pools should be safe so long as people maintain proper social distancing while using them. However, following those guidelines at a pool party could be difficult, and may not be worth the risk.

The CDC has issued a seasonal update to its coronavirus guidelines, noting the increased use of swimming pools this summer. The agency says that the virus still spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and that so far, there is no evidence that it can survive in water. Even if it did, it looks like the chlorine content of an average swimming pool should be enough to neutralize it. The more significant issue is how humans tend to behave while swimming, which makes gathering at pools unsafe.

First and most obviously, a big pool party is not safe because it almost certainly means the breaching of social distancing practices. Keeping six feet apart will be nearly impossible in most swimming pools, and masks will not be possible either (though eye protection might be). Even if only a few people are actually in the water, others gathered in small private groups are not likely to truly observe social distancing when they're comfortable with family and friends.

Also, while the virus might not survive the water for long, the CDC notes that multiple swimmers in a pool are highly likely to exchange saliva. Between heavy inhalations and exhalations coming in and out of the surface, and water entering the ears, nose and mouth, this creates lots of opportunities for the virus to find its way into someone's system.

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In many cases, public swimming pools around the U.S. remain closed, even if restrictions have been lifted in that state or city. If they are not closed, the CDC warns that these are perilous places to visit, and may not be a great option for the summer. As for private pools, swimming with people who you do not live with still presents a considerable risk of infection and is probably not worth the risk.

As for natural bodies of water like lakes, rivers and beaches, the CDC recommends that swimmers maintain social distance from others in the water — which can be even more difficult while swimming than while on foot. If a beach looks crowded, air on the side of caution. Visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization for the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic.