Is Swimming Risky In The COVID-19 Era?

Is Swimming Risky In The COVID-19 Era?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

While most pools in California continue to have various restrictions in place (e.g., only 1-2 people swimming per lane, a maximum of 40-45 minutes of use per person, a maximum of 4 uses per person per week), and city governments, pool managers, and county health officials not studied the risks of COVID-19 transmission in outdoor chlorinated environments after a year of shutdowns and lockdowns, the swimming community in the UK including Swim England (the national governing body of swimming in England), Water Babies (an international baby swimming program), and the Royal Life Saving Society (provider of water safety and drowning prevention education) took matters into their own hands.

Taking the lead from virologists from Imperial College London, they participated in a study of the impact of varying concentrations of chlorine in water on the SARS-CoV-2 virus according to the Daily Mail.

The upside?

The risk of COVID-19 transmission in a chlorinated swimming pool is negligible because the chlorine in the water can inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19 in 30 seconds in indoor pools. Professor Wendy Barclay, an expert in the field of respiratory viruses at the Imperial College London, reports, “We performed these experiments at our high containment laboratories in London. Under these safe conditions, we are able to measure the ability of the virus to infect cells, which is the first step in its transmission. By mixing the virus with swimming pool water that was delivered to us by the Water Babies team, we could show that the virus does not survive in swimming pool water — it was no longer infectious. That, coupled with the huge dilution factor of virus that might find its way into a swimming pool from an infected person, suggests the chance of contracting COVID-19 from swimming pool water is negligible.”

Science now tells us that the main method of transmission is through respiratory droplets containing the coronavirus,” says Steven Munatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association. “When someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks, laughs, or sings at the pool, these droplets are dispersed in the air and can land on the hands, mouths or noses of others, or they can be inhaled by another swimmer nearby. It is generally understood that the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth. If the virus is immediately inhaled, then this is a serious situation. But if the virus somehow lands on the hands, mouths or noses of others, and that person starts to swim and puts their hands, mouth or nose back in the chlorinated water, then the likelihood of getting sick – at least according to Professor Barclay and her colleagues – is negligible. That is, the risk is so small or unimportant or of so little consequence as to warrant little or no attention.”

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson commented on the Imperial College London findings, “The study adds to the evidence that swimming pools can be safe and secure environments if appropriate measures are taken. [Futhermore,] it’s fantastic news for the operators, our members and clubs who take part in all our amazing sports, recreational swimmers and those who rely on the water to stay physically active. The findings confirm the guidance we have issued to operators is correct and will give everyone returning to the water from [April 12th] peace of mind that they are doing so safely.”

On the United States side of the Atlantic Ocean, Ray Kreienkamp, MD, PhD, a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine with a subspecialty in endocrinology, wrote about the sport of water polo. “[There is] an incomplete understanding of risk, which has led some areas to prohibit [water polo] completely. In those areas where water polo has been played, we have no quantifiable data on the risk of COVID-19 in water polo and the transmission of COVID-19 through the sport. This has made it difficult to suggest a unified approach across the country, and it has prevented coaches for knowing which mitigation strategies help ensure athlete safety.

This spring, in order to understand better the risks of COVID-19 transmission through water polo and mitigation strategies that decrease risk, we are conducting a study throughout the high school season.”

If interested coaches, players and parents would like to participate in this study, use this link here.

Dr. Kreienkamp continues, “After signing up, you will receive a survey, through the email denoted in this form, every two weeks from early March until the end of your high school season. You will receive a final survey after your season is complete.

Your participation in this study is voluntary. However, we ask that you please participate to increase our understanding of how COVID-19 and water polo can be played safely in this country. You may also opt out of the study at any point.

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Steven Munatones