Coronavirus and Pools: Just How Risky Are Pool Gatherings, Anyway?

S.S.M.: Public pools should also tell people not to wear masks in the water, because if those masks get wet, you’re going to have an increased risk of drowning. Since you can’t wear a mask in a pool, you must do social distancing.

SELF: Should people avoid lockers and locker rooms at public pools?

P.K.: It depends. How frequently are the lockers and locker room being cleaned? Let’s say you say you’re using a public locker and someone is really cleaning it in between every single use—then that’s lower risk. You have to inquire about the extent to which things are being cleaned. That’s probably the biggest component, and then how many people are traversing that area? If you’ve got hundreds of people going in and out of a locker room and it’s only being cleaned once a day, maybe that’s not as frequent as you’d like.

W.G.: It’s hard to enforce social distancing in the locker room. On the other hand, if no one’s using them and they’re open, and they’re not crowded, that’s different. It would be good to see that they have spray cans and wipes easily available in the locker room.

S.S.M.: I wouldn’t avoid them. If people want to walk around with an EPA-approved anti-SARS-CoV-2 cleaning fluid and some paper towels and wipe their locker down, it doesn’t take very much effort.

SELF: What about shared surfaces, like pool toys, lounge chairs, and towels?

P.K.: The technical term this is referring to is fomite transmission, that is, transmission from objects and not necessarily from direct contact. If somebody who is ill or carrying the virus on their hands touches something, and then somebody else touches the same thing before it’s been cleaned—or let’s say numerous people have been touching something before its been cleaned—and maybe someone hasn’t yet washed their hands and they touch their nose, their eyes, or their mouth, that’s the theoretical way fomite transmission works.

What we do know about SARS-CoV-2 is that that transmission is primarily through respiratory droplets. Fomite transmission is not necessarily thought to be the predominant form of transmission. But it is a reasonable precaution to take to go ahead and routinely wipe down frequently touched surfaces and objects with household disinfectants that are approved by the EPA.

W.G.: My first recommendation would be keeping objects in open sunlight. If you’re in a high-sunlight area like a pool deck, it looks like survival of the virus on hot surfaces in sunlight is fairly brief, around 30 minutes. If you have an alcohol solution or a bleach spray, you can spray things down. But this generally doesn’t seem to be the main form of transmission.

S.S.M.: You should never share towels, ever. Towels are nice and moist and warm, which is very conducive to the growth of all sorts of organisms. So it is best that the towel only has a personal use.

SELF: Any other final thoughts or tips for safe pool time, both privately and publicly?

P.K.: If you are feeling ill, please don’t go to a pool environment. Definitely stay out of any public kind of environment. This is the overarching theme for, frankly, pools and everything else. I would also encourage you to wash your hands as you normally would, even if you weren’t at the pool. You can have a small alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you, or use regular soap and water.

W.G.: Go to a public pool at a time when it’s less crowded.

S.S.M.: If people have snacks and drinks, it’s a good idea to do really good hand hygiene before you eat and drink. You don’t know what you just touched. And if you don’t remember if you washed your hands, go wash your hands one more time. If your eyes are bothering you, like if you have contacts and you want to rub your eyes, hand hygiene first.

I don’t want people to be paranoid. I don’t want people going out there with ski gloves. People really should be enjoying the outdoors because the lockdown has been psychologically and physically very difficult. But people should not go out there and damn the consequences. They should just be thoughtful.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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