A trip to the pool or beach can be done safely amid the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, public health experts say.
As widely shared videos of packed pool parties and crowded boardwalks over Memorial Day weekend show what to avoid, a trip to the pool or beach can be done safely amid the coronavirus pandemic as states reopen, public health experts say.
Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, said the same practices for going to the grocery store or to a restaurant can also apply at the pool or the beach: Stay in your group and maintain social distancing.
"Distancing in these settings is really the key to minimizing the transmission," he said.
Khabbaza, who treats coronavirus patients, said sustained, close contact with other people helps transmit the virus. Practices that limit such contact help slow its spread.
"Pools should limit the amount of people who can come in," he said. "The beach is nice because it’s a lot easier to space out."
Khabbaza said outdoor activities can be relatively safer than indoor ones because of the opportunity to maintain distance.
Still, he said, people who go to the pool or the beach should still wash their hands and use hand sanitizer. They should wear face masks, though not in the water. And those over 65 or with underlying health conditions should consider staying home.
Khabbaza said to watch for signs that others at the pool and beach are not being safe.
"If a situation doesn’t feel right, leave," he said.CDC guidelines
Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, when many public pools traditionally open, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines for operating swimming pools during the coronavirus pandemic.
"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," the CDC said on its website. "Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water."
Nevertheless, the agency said, "While there is ongoing community spread 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."What to bring to the pool or beach
Don't forget your mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Also, grab your own towel and your own beach toys or swimming gear.Mask up – until you dive in
The CDC suggested that pool operators "encourage the use of cloth face coverings as feasible," noting that they are "most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult." However, it's not advised for swimmers to wear masks in the water because they're difficult to breathe through when they're wet.Stay 6 feet apart, in and out of the water
The CDC also suggested that pool operators change the layout of their seating areas so that patrons can remain 6 feet away from anyone outside their household.
While in the water, swimmers should keep the same distance from anyone they are not quarantining with.
The CDC did not address how to socially distance lap swimmers.
Parents should consider whether their children can or will stay 6 feet away from people they don't live with. If not, they should not take them to the pool.Cover those coughs
The CDC instructed pool operators to encourage all staff and patrons to wash their hands and cover coughs and sneezes.
Khabbaza noted that the coronavirus spreads through droplets people produce when they cough, sneeze or even talk. People can spread the virus whether they show symptoms or not. Khabbaza said anyone who feels any signs of illness should stay home.
"All it takes is one super spreader," he said.Wipe down frequently touched surfaces
The CDC's guidelines also encouraged pool staff to regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces on the pool deck and in the locker room.
At the pool, high-touch areas should be regularly disinfected, Khabbaza agreed. But pool- and beachgoers can also use disinfectant wipes to be extra safe. The virus doesn't live long in water, especially when the water has been treated with chlorine.Don't share goggles and other gear
The sharing of pool equipment that touches the face and is difficult to disinfect – such as goggles and snorkels – is discouraged, even among patrons from the same household. Any other gear should not be shared with people from outside your home.