An Infectious Disease Doctor’s Verdict on Swimming Pool Safety During COVID-19

With states across the country in different phases of re-opening (and re-closing), the verdict of whether or not public pools are open at all varies. And if pools are open, guidelines may differ. For instance, Iowa, has no restrictions in place for its pools, but other states have mandated 50 percent capacity rules, or guidelines to social distance while in the water. While you'd be wise to do your due diligence this summer to stay up to date on best practices in place where you live, these inconsistencies beg a broader question: During COVID-19, is swimming at your local pool safe? And if so, what's the safest way to dive in?

According to Rishi Desai, MD, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Officer, playing it safe may mean keeping that bathing suit in your dresser for now. "I think it's best for folks to stay away from public pools this summer, because we're one month into summer and cases are on the rise across most U.S. states," he says. "Even though many public pools are outdoors, and [being outdoors] lowers the risk, it's hard to socially distance at a pool. There are lots of folks that come and go, people are unlikely to be wearing masks—especially if they're eating and drinking—and people will be spending a lot of time at the pool. These are all risk factors that increase the chance of spreading the virus poolside."

But Dr. Desai says what makes going to public swimming pools so risky for COVID-19 transmission isn't the water itself, but being around more people. "The virus is relatively unstable in the environment, relative to other viruses, and wouldn't survive well in chlorinated water," he says. "The virus spreads through respiratory droplets rather than water droplets, so the major risk is when you encounter a person with the virus, rather than pool water itself."

"The virus spreads through respiratory droplets rather than water droplets, so the major risk is when you encounter a person with the virus, rather than pool water itself." —Rishi Desai, MD

Even if a pool has social distancing rules in place for both lounging and swimming purposes, though, Dr. Desai doubts how effective they are in practice. "Socially distancing at a public pool with lots of folks around is, by definition, going to be hard to do. It's a bit like trying to stay dry while walking through a thunderstorm; you should just expect that you will get a bit wet," he says.

But if you opt to jump in, Dr. Desai has a few tips for making sure your swim time is as safe as possible: "Wearing a mask when you're poolside, minimizing time at the pool and trying to socially distance [while there], showering before and after being in the environment, and not touching your face are all ways to try to reduce the risk of being at a public pool," he says, adding that avoiding peak pool hours is smart, too.

That said, you can still give yourself at low-to-no-risk relief from the heat by setting up your own poolside paradise, if you're fortunate enough to have the private personal space. Here are some products to help you cool off at home, without opening yourself up to the risk of virus transmission.

Experts In This Article
  • Rishi Desai, MD, infectious disease physician, chief medical officer at Osmosis, former intelligence officer at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Beat the heat without increasing COVID-19 risk with these at-home swimming accessories:

1. Inflatable backyard swimming pool, $66

Okay, so you can't swim laps in it, but you can still get the majority of your body cooled off using this inflatable backyard pool. Plus, the watermelon theme is super cute.

2. Inflatable splash pad, $25

Remember the simple joy of running through a sprinkler in the backyard as a kid? Why did we ever stop? This splash pad shoots up water high enough that it will do more than just tickle your knees, and the water pressure is adjustable.

3. Inflatable pool with canopy, $116

This is the ultimate backyard inflatable pool. With a canopy at one, you can lounge while being protected from the sun. Is that living, or what?

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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