The CDC recently released guidelines for reopening swimming pool and recreation facilities with pools.
However, we have had triathletes and swimmers ask “Can I still get COVID19 from a swimming pool?” Or “Won’t the chlorine in the pool kill COVID19?”
The guidelines focus on the increasing frequency of cleaning and disinfecting common area as other preventative measures in and around swimming pools.
That’s a reasonable question and the short answer is that swimming, in general, is a low-risk activity for exposure to COVID19. But that exposure risk really depends on a few factors.
The good news is that there aren’t any studies I could find that shows transmission or infections of COVID19 from a swimming pool.
The bad news?
These studies just haven’t been done. But we can take a look and determine the relative risks of contracting COVID19 from a swimming pool.
There’s been one study funded by a pool chemical company that looked at the risk of COVID19 from swimming pools. It’s more of a review and position paper rather than a true data-driven study, but the lead author, Dr Romano Spica, Professor of Hygiene at the University of Rome, has a history of studying pool-related hygiene issues, so I’d consider him a good authority on this topic.
COULD COVID19 BE TRANSMITTED IN A POOL?
It really depends on the activity in the pool.
From a “relative” risk standpoint, I think we can order these swimming pool activities from low to high risk like so:
- Lap swimming single lane – Lowest risk
- Lap swimming multiple swimmers in a lane – low risk
- Water Aerobics/ Pool Therapy classes – social distancing – low to medium risk
- Water Aerobics/ Pool Therapy classes – no social distancing – medium risk
- Swim practice/ Masters swim with prescribed swim interval sets with rest – Medium risk
- Open pool – children playing, no social distancing – high risk
- Water Polo – high risk
We know that COVID19 is usually spread by respiratory droplets. Talking, sneezing, coughing and even singing have all been shown to spread these respiratory droplets and potentially COVID19. But COVID19 has also been found in other bodily fluids such as saliva, urine and stool, which means other modes of transmission of the virus.
For triathletes and swimmers, each exhale is done into the water while each inhaled breath is taken by turning the head out of the water (if you’re doing it correctly), so respiratory droplets with COVID19 would be forcibly exhaled into the pool water. The good news is that the turbulence of the water from swimming would disperse these respiratory droplets pretty quickly .
Let’s break down your risks of getting COVID19 from a swimming pool:
COVID19 EXPOSURE IN THE POOL
Chlorine and other pool chemicals are used to disinfect pool water. It doesn’t mean that chlorine disinfected 100% of viruses, bacterias or other microbes, but it does sustantially decrease the number of microbes you can be exposed to while swimming.
But chlorine pool chemicals don’t completely eliminate the risk of COVID19 or other viral exposures while swimming.
That’s the reason why pools have the sign “no active diarrhea in the past 14 days” signs posted. Rotavirus outbreaks at pools do happen, just like on cruise ships and in schools
(links to news stories on pool infeciton, cruise ship infection and school outbreaks)
COVID19 EXPOSURE OUT OF THE POOL
You’re more likely to contract COVID19 out of the pool than while in the pool swimming. The CDC is recommending that swimming pool and recreation facilities increase the frequency at which they clean the areas immediate around the pool (handrails, diving board) as well as common areas such as changing areas/locker rooms and restrooms.
Pools will probably restrict the use of chairs, lounge areas and other gathering and socializing areas in their initial reopening phase.
CDC is recommending that pools check with their pool chemical companies about using the highest allowable concentration of pool chemicals to increase the effectiveness of the chemicals in disinfecting the pool water. Pools are also being asked to make sure that the pool filtration systems are working up to maximum capacity.
COVID19 – OUTDOOR VS INDOOR POOLS
If you have the choice between swimming in an outdoor pool or indoor pool, you’re at lower risk of catching COVID19 from an outdoor swimming pool for two reasons.
First, sunlight (UV radiation) has been shown to deactivate or disinfect the virus. Secondly, better air flow around outdoor pools would help disperse COVID19 respiratory droplets , decreasing the overall exposure to swimmers and others at the outdoor pool.
Swimming pool and other recreational facilities may also implement COVID19 screening procedures including temperature checks or brief illness questionaries before being allowed to swim.
TIPS FOR SWIMMERS AND TRIATHLETES TO PREVENT TRANSMISSION OF COVID19 FROM SWIMMING POOL
- Don’t swim when sick with fever, cough, sore throat or other COVID19 symptoms
- Don’t swim if you’ve recently been exposed to someone that tested positive for COVID19
- Don’t share googles, kickboards, fins or other swimming equipment.
- Practice social distancing in the pool and out of the pool. Swim one to a lane and don’t rest for long periods on the end wall of the pool.
- Wash, wash, wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER swimming
- Wear a mask when you’re out of the pool.
Swimming laps in a pool should be a very low-risk COVID19 activity. But be sure to follow social distancing out of the pool and proper hand hygiene.
And most importantly, stay healthy and get back to swim training!