CHICAGO — In many places, public pools have been shut down or restricted to reduced capacity over the last year. This week, in a series of reports, we look at some of the big questions many have about getting back to normal.
Within days of the outbreak, many communities went on near-total lockdown. That included indoor pools and aquatic centers. Now, some cities are announcing plans to return to the water. But as positivity rates decline and vaccines roll out, cities are reopening their aquatic centers sparking the query: when can I go back to a swimming pool?
“I think it depends on where those pools are, right?” said infectious disease expert Dr. Emily Landon. “First of all, the chlorine in the water kills COVID easily. So, we don't have to worry about the water being a reservoir, and there's often that chlorine smell that helps a little bit. Actually, there's chlorine in the air and that helps kill things.”
So, when properly maintained, pool water effectively kills germs and viruses. The CDC says it’s not aware of any scientific reports of “…COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, or other treated aquatic venues.”
Outside the water is a different story, especially at crowded pools with a lot of children.
“If those kids are also participating in a bunch of day camps and outdoor sports and indoor sports and camps and having lots of play dates with friends, which they weren't doing last summer, could be higher risk because kids aren't going to get vaccinated again until the end of the summer," explained Dr. Landon.
If the pool is really crowded, that may be a place where you should be wearing your mask, including changing rooms, locker areas, and walking to and from the pool area.
Swimming for exercise may require other precautions.
“Don't share lanes if you don't have to,” suggested Dr. Landon. “Try and make sure it's less crowded, but you have to manage that risk. If you've been vaccinated, you may not be very worried about it, but if you live with someone who has a chronic illness who hasn't yet been able to get a vaccine, then you may want to be a lot more careful.”
As is the case with helping to reduce virus spread, ventilation is key. So, if you have a choice between indoor and outdoor pools, Dr. Landon says the choice is clear.
“Outdoor wins, hands down, every single time," Dr. Landon stressed.
As the summer draws near and public aquatic centers begin to reopen over the next few months, there are ways to ensure your return to the water is as safe as it can be.