• Federal health officials have shared that there’s little to no evidence that COVID-19 can spread among individuals in a pool setting.
  • A new unpublished study out of Imperial College London suggests that chlorinated pools can neutralize virus particles in as little as 30 seconds.
  • Regardless of the kind of pool you choose to swim in, it’s best to maintain social distance when possible; but wearing masks while swimming isn’t suggested.

This summer, scientists are better equipped to know how the COVID-19 pandemic affects our safety during seasonal activities, including taking a cool dip in a pool of your choice. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have always maintained that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus behind COVID-19 spread) is unlikely to spread in pools, releasing statements in May that suggested hot tubs and kid-friendly water playgrounds were also safe spots. “There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread to people through water in these places,” the health agency’s website currently reads.

And now there’s more evidence that may help you understand why pools are less risky than your intuition may lead you to believe. In a lab setting, researchers out of Imperial College London in the U.K. mixed swimming pool water and an engineered amount of infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus, which scientists believe would largely be diluted (and not concentrated) in a swimming pool to begin with. Observing the results and sharing them in a preview of the upcoming study, researchers found that chlorinated pool water inactivated the virus in as little as 30 seconds in some cases.

The reason why pools are effective in inactivating free-floating SARS-CoV-2 particles is due to chlorine or bromine treatments used in water maintenance, explains Sudeb Dalai, M.D., Ph.D., an infectious disease physician within Stanford University’s School of Medicine. But even freshwater sources, like lakes or ponds, aren’t thought to be a source of concern for COVID-19 risk — the disease primarily spreads in these areas when people get into close proximity with each other, foregoing social distancing.

Can Coronavirus survive in pools?

Theoretically, yes; Dr. Dalai says it’s possible that infectious respiratory droplets may end up in a pool. “But it’s likely that the virus at that point is neutralized [by chemical treatments], or diffused to such a degree that transmission is unlikely,” Dr. Dalai clarifies.

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You are more likely to face COVID-19 risk when swimming in crowded pools that don’t offer you the opportunity to maintain social distance, especially if you are swimming in an indoor facility. As CDC officials have declared, COVID-19 primarily spreads when infectious respiratory droplets or aerosols are inhaled by those around you. The disease may also impact your skin after touching a contaminated surface, with virus particles ending up in your mouth, nose or eyes.

Because there’s been a lack of evidence to suggest that COVID-19 outbreaks stem from public pools, many local municipalities have reversed last year’s policy of keeping these facilities closed. Americans can likely return to their favorite swimming spot in time for the summer holiday season, as cities from Los Angeles to Chicago and as far south as Albuquerque have already reopened at full capacity.

How to safely swim in pools during COVID:

You’ll need to keep up your commitment to hand hygiene while you’re out at a public pool this summer, whether that’s one run by the local city or at places like a resort or the gym. Bring along hand sanitizer so you can keep your hands as clean as possible between surfaces like ladders, diving boards, lounge chairs or anything you may touch throughout your day.

You’ll also need to wear masks when visiting indoor pools and keep social distance from large groups of swimmers to keep COVID-19 risk low. While it’s important to wear masks in these spaces, you shouldn’t wear masks while you are swimming, as it’s a major choking hazard to swim with a wet mask. There may be additional rules on capacity or social distancing set forth by your municipality or the facilities’ managers, too.

Of course, the easiest way to enjoy frequent trips to the pool and reduce the majority of COVID-19 risk is to get fully vaccinated before doing so. Being vaccinated may also exempt you from having to wear a mask in pool facilities as well after a recent CDC update to mask mandates in public. If anything, a long, leisurely cool off in your local pool could be a great summer reward after you’ve successfully cleared your last booster shot. Just add it to the list of rewards associated with vaccines!