Is It Possible to Catch COVID-19 in a Swimming Pool?

When it comes to pool time, COVID-19 is likely to be a concern.

You might have plans to go swimming or relax at your favorite pool. However, going to the pool requires careful consideration and ways to reduce COVID-19 risk.

Can You Catch COVID-19 in a Pool?

If you're swimming in a pool with chlorine, the risk of contracting the virus is lower. "The coronavirus doesn't survive in chlorinated water," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, told Health.

However, that doesn't mean you can't get COVID-19 while in a swimming pool. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, which means it spreads when droplets from the mouth or nose fly through the air. Anywhere you're interacting with others who are talking, coughing, or sneezing—even if you're in the water—puts you at risk of inhaling a droplet from an infected person.

Dr. Adalja said the biggest risk of going to the pool lies out of the water. "There can be crowded conditions and common touch surfaces (like the deck and the locker room) that may provide an opportunity for the virus to transmit," said Dr. Adalja.

What Safety Measures Should a Pool Have in Place?

The CDC has published guidelines for anyone who operates or manages a public pool. As of April 2022, the COVID-19 guidelines include discouraging shared use of facial swimming gear (i.e. snorkels, goggles) between individuals who are not living in the same residence and promoting the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for pool staff. The guidelines also advise creating physical and visual cues (for example, lane lines in the water) to ensure everybody stays at least six feet apart, both in and out of the water.

Considering the need for social distance, the pool environment—attributes related to if the pool is indoors or outdoors or how deep the pool is—also plays a large role in setting limits for occupant capacity. As of 2021, the US Fire Administration suggested that public pools might want to account for 36 square feet around each individual in order to meet the six-foot distance requirement. However, the CDC encourages pool operators and managers to follow any regulations set in place by sub-level governing bodies, which likely include more information about specific capacity limits for the area.

Ultimately, public health officials can't provide definitive guidelines for all activities for all people in every area of the country. Going to the pool is one of those activities that require you to do some risk assessment and prevention of your own. "While the water is generally quite safe, the people and surfaces around a pool could all harbor the coronavirus," David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Health.

How To Lessen the Risk of Getting COVID-19 at the Pool

There are many ways to help decrease the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 while you're spending time in or out of the water. The CDC provides several recommendations for general protection from COVID-19 that can be followed whenever you decide to go for a swim.

The typical measures, such as practicing physical distance and wearing masks, are encouraged according to the CDC "COVID-19 and Public Pools and Beaches" page. Using hand sanitizer and hand-washing remain important as well. "When you're at the pool, always wash your hands after touching any surface, such as a doorknob or shower handle, and especially before touching your face," added Dr. Cutler.

The CDC has also recommended getting vaccinated and ensuring that your vaccinations stay up-to-date. As of April 2022, there are three authorized or approved vaccines in the US: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Moderna vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine. Of the three, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are preferred, and children as young as 5 years old can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Finally, knowing the COVID-19 Community Level where the pool you wish to visit is located can assist you further. Using this tool, you can get information about the preventive measures suggested for the area based on if the area's level is low, medium, or high.

Whenever and however you decide to spend time at the pool, it's still major to be cautious when it comes to COVID-19. "The virus hasn't evaporated simply because [in some places] stay-at-home orders have been lifted," said Dr. Adalja.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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