This is what happens when you swim during the COVID-19 pandemic

Although health officials remain adamant that social distancing practices need to be maintained into June, few are confident in our ability to do so.

In light of this, experts of various disciplines have lent their expertise to the assessment of Covid-19 risks associated with summer activities. 

“Regardless of what we tell them, people will try to rank their risk. Whether outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, does it make sense to expand the circle of people I see — these are the things people are going to want guidance on,” explained Dr. Mary Bassett, a former health commissioner for New York City and professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

In a recent outbreak study of more than 7,300 confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections only one participant contracted the virus in an outdoor setting. But that doesn’t mean fomite based transmission isn’t viable routes of exposure.

Beaches set to reopen in the next few weeks will likely experience an influx of eager visitors. 

Most states have imposed cluster restrictions on parties that exceed 10 members on both the land and the sea. 

Water park visitors will be required to wear masks at all times when they are outside of pool areas and some institutions require swimmers to pre-register if they want to reserve short course lane lapses. 

Only one swimmer will be allowed per lane in some parks reopening in Florida and most health experts recommend the use of gloves if surface contact and tight spaces are unavoidable. 

Coronavirus debris can remain infectious for at least three hours while airborne, though it becomes increasingly unstable over time. Sixty-six minutes after activated material leaves its host, 50% of the virus’s agents lose function suspended in aerosols. Another hour and six minutes later, 75% of viral material becomes inactive.  With all things considered, the water seems to pose much less exposure risk.

“In my opinion, pool water, freshwater in a lake or river, or seawater exposure would be extremely low transmission risk even without dilution (which would reduce risk further), ”Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with Columbia University, said in a recent interview. “Probably the biggest risk for summer water recreation is crowds — a crowded pool locker room, dock or beach, especially if coupled with limited physical distancing or prolonged proximity to others. The most concentrated sources of the virus in such an environment will be the people hanging out at the pool, not the pool itself.”

Having said that, The Center For Disease Control and Prevention maintains that pool-goers should protect themselves from others by practicing social distancing and good hygiene when visiting recreational water parks. This includes being equipped with disinfecting wipes and disallowing members of your party to share food and or beverages with one another.

“There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water,” The CDC reports. “While there is ongoing community spread of COVID-19 of the virus that causes COVID-19, it is important for individuals as well as owners and operators of these facilities to take steps to ensure health and safety.”

Official CDC Swimming Guidelines:

-Everyone should follow local and state guidance that may determine when and how recreational water facilities may operate.

-Individuals should continue to protect themselves and others at recreational water venues both in and out of the water – for example, by practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene.

-In addition to ensuring water safety and quality, owners and operators of community pools, hot tubs, spas, and water play areas should follow the interim guidance for businesses and employers for cleaning and disinfecting their community facilities.

Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 likely experiences virus inactivation as quickly as five minutes when incubation temperatures rise to 70°C. 

“A general rule of thumb is that outdoors tends to be better than indoors, small groups are better than large groups and a shorter period of time is better than a longer one, said Julie Swann, head of the Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh in a recent media release. 

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at