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The new rules of visiting a pool this summer with coronavirus in mind


(Illustrations by Tara Jacoby/For The Washington Post)

You may have little concern over jumping into a public pool during a normal summer. This summer, however, our minds are on pressing health and wellness concerns, like contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

But the weather’s getting hotter, and a swim can offer much-needed relief. So can you safely visit a public pool?

The good news is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of recreational waters." Those waters include lakes, oceans, and properly chemically treated public pools and water parks.

However, just because the water itself isn’t a concern for the CDC, your activity in and around the water can still pose a health risk during the pandemic.

Maintain social distancing in and out of the water

Chlorine or bromine disinfectant will only get you so far in a public pool. Health experts are mainly concerned with passing coronavirus from person to person.

“We know [coronavirus] is very effectively transmitted through aerosol droplets,” said Robert Quigley, the regional medical director for travel risk mitigation company International SOS who holds a PhD in immunology. “Just because you’re in the water doesn’t give you authorization to violate the six-foot rule.”

Wear a mask around the pool

In addition to staying six feet away from people you don’t live with, wear a mask outside of the water — wearing one in isn’t feasible.

“Everyone who is not in the water should wear a mask,” said Wess Long, president of StarGuard Elite, a company that develops training and safety operations for aquatic facilities like water parks. “But how that’s applied and enforced really comes down to each facility.”

Whether the face mask is technically mandatory will vary from place to place. For example, at the recently reopened Hawaiian Falls water park in Roanoke, Tex., employees are required to wear face masks throughout their shifts. At SeaWorld water parks, guests over the age of 2 will be required to wear a face covering during their visit.


You can go to a pool party, but avoid crowding

There may be hope for summer pool parties, but they won’t look like the ones you’re used to. The show can go on if there’s proper distancing in place.

According to Long, instead of discouraging a client from having pool parties this summer, he’d have them reduce the capacity dramatically. If one previously hosted a thousand people, now it should be capped between 250 and 400 people.

“Create [pool environments] where you’re not going to have the large congregations of people like you might have in prior years,” Long said. “Ultimately all of the facilities, such as Hawaiian Falls and many of our other clients, have been able to adapt their operations.”

Once you’re having fun in the sun, it can be difficult to keep your coronavirus pandemic concerns in focus.

“Some people are drinking alcohol and they let down their guard and they will breach rules that they know they shouldn’t breach,” Quigley. said “I think it would behoove any organization — the YMCA or any other public facility that has a pool — that their lifeguards are all further trained on enforcing social distancing in the water and out of the water.”

Be mindful of pool and water park shared facilities

Another threat to pool visitors are the common areas shared by guests. Any touch point like a picnic table, locker, hand rail, lounge chair and public restroom may be a cause for concern, as the coronavirus can live on surfaces (although it’s more difficult to spread from touching a contaminated surface, according to the CDC).

Many establishments with pools, such as hotels and water parks, are adopting new cleaning protocols to tackle the issue of common surfaces.

“Hotels will be thinking about every detail to assess all risks and respond appropriately to keep people safe,” said Natalia Shuman, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Bureau Veritas North America, a testing, inspection and certification services company that recently partnered with Las Vegas Sands.

Shuman advises hotels: "First, clean and disinfect any surfaces that are touched by guests and staff at least twice a day, paying particular attention to door handles, pool ladders, showers, changing rooms, and lounge chairs.”

And even with hotels and businesses taking extra cleaning precautions, it’s still important to be vigilant about washing your hands, per standard pandemic procedure.

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