The weather is finally turning and you’re ready for that cherished summer tradition: spending the day lounging by the outdoor pool or splashing through a water park.
But is the pandemic going to dash your watery summer dreams?
If you’re safe and understand the risks, not necessarily.
First, the growing consensus among experts is that the possibility of catching the coronavirus outdoors is much lower than indoors. But it is not zero.
Second, for those who want to enjoy pools and water parks during this extraordinary time, the guidelines are the same as for any other outdoor activity: Practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces and wear a mask when possible to keep that risk low.
However, pools and water parks present unique challenges for following those guidelines. Wearing a mask is all but impossible while swimming, and social distancing may be difficult at crowded locations. (The New York Times reported last week that a partygoer who attended a crowded pool party over Memorial Day weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri tested positive for coronavirus.)
The danger, experts say, isn’t in the water.
“There’s nothing inherent about ocean water or especially pool water that is risky. The bug isn’t transmitted via a waterborne route,” said Dr. Ebb Lautenbach, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Chlorine and bromine that are in pools inactivate the virus and makes it even lower risk in terms of catching it from the water.”
“There probably is a theoretical possibility you could get infected by coronavirus from the pool water itself, but it’s so negligible it’s probably effectively zero,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
The risk of catching the virus at a pool or water park, rather, comes from the other people there.
The current consensus among experts is that the primary way coronavirus spreads is person to person, when an uninfected individual breathes in droplets expelled from an infected person through coughing, sneezing or talking. While it is possible to contract the disease from touching a surface with active virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
So worry less about the water and the surface on that lounge-chair, and more about the person standing next to you at the water-park entrance or wading in the shallow end as you swim by. Remember, you are more at risk indoors, like in a crowded locker room or indoor cafe.
“You can imagine waiting in a long line to go down a water slide, or hanging out in a pool like a pool party the way we saw in the Lake of the Ozarks, those types of environments are probably higher risk,” Dr. Rasmussen said.
Dr. Lautenbach added that the nature of public pools offers far less space to spread out than other activities, like a picnic in the park, but you should still try to practice the same safety measures.
“The challenge with a pool is really that the same rules apply,” he said. “We can say that if you’re at a picnic, it’s easier to wear a mask outside in that context, but you can’t really wear a mask in the pool. We don’t want people to drown either. So that’s the real challenge.”
Still, Dr. Lautenbach said that if you’re able to stay at least six feet away from people and wear a mask when possible, you’re doing about the best you can do. He also suggested minimizing activities in the water that would bring you physically closer to other people.
For more information, the C.D.C. published a set of guidelines for pools and water parks.