Swimmers Could Still Contract Coronavirus While Visiting Public Pools This Summer, Experts Warn

'The virus can't live in the chlorinated water, so the risk is still airborne,' a public health researcher says.

children swimming in a pool
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'The virus can't live in the chlorinated water, so the risk is still airborne,' a public health researcher says.

Public swimming pools may not be safe to visit this summer, as the novel coronavirus can still spread in those facilities, public health experts warn.

As Yahoo Life reports, Memorial Day is right around the corner, and with it, the traditional, unofficial start of summer in the United States. The holiday would ordinarily usher in the season when Americans enjoy spending time together at cookouts, outdoor sports activities, and swimming at water holes and public swimming pools.

The problem isn’t that the coronavirus can be transmitted in chlorinated water — it can’t, as the chlorine kills it quickly and efficiently. However, the pathogen that causes COVID-19 is not waterborne, but airborne, which means being in a public swimming pool is no different from being in a restaurant or a movie theater. The virus can be transmitted from person to person when they’re in close proximity with each other, even in a place that has chlorinated water.

Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, also points to another problem — public surfaces. The tables and chairs, ladders and safety equipment, restroom doors, and just about anything else pool guests could touch could be contaminated with the virus, which can stay active on surfaces for hours, if not days.

a swimming pool with no swimmers
  5477687 / Pixabay

“You have to worry about crowds and commonly touched surfaces. Those are always going to pose a risk, whether at the pool or park,” Adalja said.

Additional problems can come from the pool-goers themselves. They may be lured to the water by a false sense of belief that hot weather and sunshine will keep them safe. While some experiments have shown that the virus doesn’t survive long in heat and humidity and that sunlight quickly kills it, that doesn’t mean summer conditions will kill off the virus. If that were the case, it wouldn’t have spread as easily in places with hot and humid weather, according to the World Health Organization.

Although Dr. Adalja notes sunlight and higher temperatures may lessen the spread of the virus at public pools, it won’t eliminate it entirely.

“When it is sunny out in the next few months, that may cause less surface transmission of the virus. But it’s not necessarily going to be zero. It also doesn’t mean there won’t be human-to-human transmission,” he stated.

Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, is also concerned about the myth that sunlight and hot temperatures kill the virus instantly, therefore causing people to think that gathering at places such as pools is safe.

“Magical thinking is going to lead to a lot of cases in the coming months,” he declared.