Like any outdoor activity, there is a certain amount of risk in swimming in backyard pools due to the coronavirus. Should you choose to take it, here’s how you can do so as safely as possible.
While public swimming pools are closed throughout New York State and new restrictions and guidelines were set for visiting beaches during coronavirus, many families, especially those in the suburbs, are wondering if it’s safe to swim in backyard swimming pools and if they can have friends, neighbors, or even extended family over to cool down with them. Aslam Jangda, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician at Crystal Run Healthcare, and his daughter Maha Jangda, a recent medical school graduate, compiled some safety tips (with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to separate fact from fiction when it comes to swimming in backyard swimming pools this summer.
The good news is, the CDC has not yet detected the virus in water that is treated with filtration and disinfection (pool water). In other words, it is believed that the chemicals in your pool can kill or inactivate the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. However, safety measures should not be taken lightly. Dr. Aslam Jangda stresses that it’s best for friends and families to continue practicing social distancing and avoid going into pools together. If your family chooses to take the risk of swimming in backyard pools this summer, here are the answers to some questions that can help you swim in backyard pools as safe as possible.
Can the coronavirus spread through pool water?
There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread from person to person through the water in swimming pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas, as long as the water is well-maintained and cleaned regularly, according to the CDC. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.
Pool owners should follow the CDC’s pool safety guidelines before swimming in or allowing others to swim in their pool. The Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test kits so pool owners can measure the chlorine level and pH of water backyard pools through its 16th annual Healthy Pools campaign. You can also download this free poster from the CDC for using and storing pool chemicals safely.
Does chlorine kill coronavirus?
Remember: Well-maintained pools are less likely to spread germs. “The average amount of chlorine that’s in a pool is going to kill the virus,” says Roberta Lavin, a professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing. So the answer is yes, it is believed that chlorine can inactivate the coronavirus.
But there is something we need to keep in mind, especially with younger kids swimming in pools. Peeing in the pool isn’t only gross (though kids will inevitably do it at least once in their lives), pee reacts with chlorine, reducing the amount of chemical available to kill any viruses in the water, according to the Water Quality & Health Council. So if there’s any summer to not pee in the pool, it’s this one.
“Just as you should wear a mask when out in public today, in the pool you should protect yourself and other swimmers by practicing good swimmer hygiene—don’t pee in the pool and remember to shower before swimming,” says Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.
Are saltwater swimming pools safe to swim in during the coronavirus pandemic?
There is no evidence that supports the inactivation of the coronavirus in saltwater pools, so they should be avoided, for now, Dr. Aslam Jangda recommends. Saltwater pools generally have lower chlorine levels, which puts an individual at higher risk for coronavirus than if they were in an average chlorinated pool.
Are hot tubs safe to use during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The CDC says there is no evidence to back up the survival potential of the virus in hot tubs as long as they are well maintained and disinfected. However, since hot tubs have a much smaller diameter than pools, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to properly distance yourself from others while in a hot tub. So avoid hot tubs as much as you can.
Is keeping 6 feet distance in the pool enough to keep you safe?
No, it’s not enough. Pool-goers should practice social distance as well as good hygiene when getting in and out of the pool. Keep in mind: While swimming (especially kids), people are often touching their face, mouth, and nose more often than normal, whether it is to rub your eyes after coming up for air or hold your nose. Some tips from the CDC for maintaining good hygiene while swimming is:
- Follow local and state guidelines that determine when and how recreational water facilities may operate, including how many can be present in a pool in accordance with its size.
- Minimize the number of surfaces being touched before getting into the pool and after getting out
- Wash your hands
- Do not share towels or toys (volleyballs, beach balls, floaties, etc.).
- Owners of pools, hot tubs, spas, and play areas should follow the interim guidance for cleaning and disinfecting their water facilities.
Can more than one family or a group that has been quarantined together be in the pool at the same time?
Multiple families who are quarantined separately should avoid going into the same swimming pool together. We don’t know each family’s status of infection, and in pools, there is a risk of direct exposure. Members of the same family (living and quarantining in the same household) can go in the pool together
Can we share pool toys or floaties?
No. It is best to avoid contact as much as possible. While disinfecting pool toys does decrease the risk of contracting the viral infection, it is best to avoid sharing pool equipment altogether. Group games that involve floaties, water volleyball, water basketball, and anything that involves multiple people interacting in close proximity should be discontinued as well. Families should maintain an acceptable amount of distance between one another and bring your own pool toys, floaties, and chairs.
Remember, when swimming in a pool with friends and family, you need to take responsibility for your own protection and for disinfecting your hands, your children’s hands, and anything you touch in the pool area. You should operate under the assumption that people are infected. The virus can hang around in the air in the form of tiny droplets called aerosols for up to 30 minutes. Here are some extra tips to keep safe:
- If you or anyone in your family has symptoms of the disease (fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, loss of taste/smell), do not use the pool. In fact, you should stay at home.
- Wear a face mask when you are not in the swimming pool.
- Make sure the pool is properly sanitized with chlorine and bromine.
- Stay socially distanced at all times, both in and out of the water.
Keep the pool gathering to a small group of trusted friends/family who you are sure to have been following the rules of social distancing.
Melissa Wickes, a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, is the production editor for NYMetroParents. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing the guitar or eating pasta
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