Coronavirus in water: Risk of transmission varies between pools, lakes, oceans

A lifeguard wearing a face mask walks at the Ocean Sevilla pool club in Sevilla on May 25, 2020. (AFP)

As the summer heat kicks in and COVID-19 restrictions ease, many may be planning on heading for a swim to cool off, but experts have warned that swimming does not come risk-free during the pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know before diving in:

Pools – No evidence of transmission

There is no evidence that the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, can be spread through water in swimming pools and hot tubs, according to the US Centers of Disease Control.

“Additionally, proper operation of these aquatic venues and disinfection of the water (with chlorine or bromine) should inactivate the virus,” said the CDC on its website.

However public pools can pose a risk if social distancing is not maintained out of the water.

It's a good idea to keep physical distance “between you and people you don't live with — at least 6 feet (2 meters) if you can — when you're at a public pool or water park,” according to Mayo Clinic, ranked the number one hospital in America by US News & World Report.

You shouldn’t wear a face mask while swimming as it may make breathing difficult, according to Mayo Clinic, though it is recommended to wear one once out of the water.

A staff member checks the temperature of a woman before entering a swimming pool in Rome, Italy, May 25, 2020. (Reuters)

A staff member checks the temperature of a woman before entering a swimming pool in Rome, Italy, May 25, 2020. (Reuters)

Freshwater – Evidence of transmission

The novel coronavirus and other similar coronaviruses have been shown to remain infectious in natural freshwater like lakes, according to American nonprofit environmental organization the Surfrider Foundation.

“Researchers during a March 12 Water Research Foundation webinar note that high concentrations of the viable COVID-19 virus could put freshwater recreation users at risk,” according to a Surfrider Foundation statement.

The risk of transmission is likely low due to the dilution of the virus in the water, it said.

Oceans – Risk to be determined

There has not yet been research on whether SARS-CoV-2 remains active in saltwater.

“It’s unclear if swimming at saltwater beaches elevates the risk of contracting COVID-19,” according to the Surfrider Foundation.

A young boy prepares to fly a kite on a public beach with the Burj al-Arab hotel behind him in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on May 29, 2020. (AP)

A young boy prepares to fly a kite on a public beach with the Burj al-Arab hotel behind him in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on May 29, 2020. (AP)

It is possible that an infected person may release the virus into the water by submerging their face, said Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Arizona at Tucson, in an interview with NBC News.

Because of this it is best to keep social distancing even while swimming, Gerba recommended.

Beach precautions

The main risk of COVID-19 transmission at the beach is violating social distancing, Yale University epidemiologist Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood told Al Arabiya English.

Beachgoers will need more than towels and sunscreen in a post-COVID world. As major cities around the world from Ibiza to Dubai to Miami reopen their beaches, visitors are recommended to bring face masks, hand sanitizers, and disinfectant wipes if using any communal beach equipment like chairs and umbrellas.

People congregate on Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach with the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop on May 26, 2020, in Alameda, Calif. (AFP)

People congregate on Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach with the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop on May 26, 2020, in Alameda, Calif. (AFP)

COVID-19 preventative measures at beaches differ based on country and city.

In Spain, sensors are being installed on beaches to warn tourists of overcrowding, according to The Daily Mail.

In Dubai all beachgoers are subject to a temperature check before entry and must wear masks, except children under the age of six and those with special health conditions such as severe respiratory issues.

Meanwhile Miami has banned beach games like volleyball and hired 400 ‘Beach Ambassadors’ to enforce social distancing rules, according to the Miami Herald.

Los Angeles has also banned group sports on its beaches, as well as sunbathing.

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Last Update: Tuesday, 02 June 2020 KSA 17:21 - GMT 14:21
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