Is it Safe to Swim and Surf During COVID-19?

Two children laying by the pool

Summer is almost here! Is it safe to swim and do watersports now? We’ve got answers from the experts on whether or not it’s time to take on those beach waves or take a plunge in the pool.

The bottom line is that there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Disinfection of the water with chlorine or bromine should inactivate the virus.

“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine in a MedicalXpress article. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”

Unlike bacteria, which can survive on water that is not properly cleaned, “viruses are just a strand of RNA or DNA that need a host to survive,” according to Dr. Lakshmi Chauhan, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in a UCHealth article.

The real risk for infection of COVID-19 relates to the crowds that gather at these places. The virus can spread from person to person when they are in close contact with each other, whether while swimming in the pool, swimming in the ocean, sunning or walking on the sand, or chilling or walking on the deck. It’s easy to forget the importance of proper social distancing when hanging at these places, but still so important. While on land, wear a mask, and remember to stay at least 6 feet apart from others.

Sports like paddle-boarding, surfing and sailing are low-risk. They tend to be naturally socially distant. If the beach or lake you are going to is open and you are doing these sports away from crowds you should be fine. Remember to wear a mask, stay away from others, and use hand sanitizer on any oars, paddles, etc. that are shared with you. 

“If state and local health authorities allow it and you’re able to maintain social distance and practice all good COVID-19 prevention measures, I would think paddle boarding would be a low-risk situation,” according to Dr. Daniel Pastula, a UCHealth neuro-infectious disease expert.

Health experts say you are more likely to catch a viral infection indoors than you are outdoors, so all other things being equal, outdoor pools should be safer than indoor pools. As long as you stay at least 6 feet away from others and follow other COVID-19 prevention measures the possibility of transmission is low at an outdoor pool.  The longer you spend enclosed indoors in a public swimming pool, the more likely you are to be exposed to viruses. Indoor pools are a higher risk since viral droplets that are sneezed or coughed stay in the building.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to stay away from others. Stay at home orders are working to level off COVID-19 cases, saving lives and keeping our hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. As we relax restrictions there is the potential for a second wave. At the same time, it’s hard to stay inside when we are excited by the summer rays and want to hit the waves or get a tan. So if you are stoked about a beach, pool, or lake that’s now open, don’t worry about the water but do follow the social distancing guidelines and you’ll lessen the risk of catching COVID-19.