July 2020

Aquatics in the Time of COVID-19

Treading safely into the new Guidelines


“There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through properly treated water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds.”

Summer is upon us! As of the writing of this article, California has entered into Stage 4 of Governor Newsom’s reopening guidelines. As of June 12, 2020, pools and fitness clubs were allowed to re-open after proper precautionary procedures are implemented as stated in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines.

Santa Cruz County is home to many active and outdoorsy families, so beach and pool closures have affected us profoundly. As we venture outside and get active again, the questions and concerns remain — How do we keep our families safe and inhibit the spread of COVID-19 in an aquatic environment?

While our beaches are (at the time of this writing this article) closed from 11am – 5pm each day for lounging or sitting, the ocean remains open for water sports (e.g., surfing, boogie-boarding, swimming, paddle-boarding, kayaking, boating, etc.). Individuals may cross the sand during beach closure hours in order to access the ocean. Good news for Surf City!

For those who like to spend summers by the pool, there is good news here as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through properly treated water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Proper operation and disinfection of pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds should kill the virus that causes COVID-19.”

A recent New York Times article quoted Dr. Ebb Lautenbach, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine as saying, “There’s nothing inherent about ocean water or especially pool water that is risky. The bug isn’t transmitted via a waterborne route. Chlorine and bromine that are in pools inactivate the virus and makes it even lower risk in terms of catching it from the water.”

USA Swimming, the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control have published guidelines for our safe return to the pool. General guidelines will continue to be in place poolside: 6 feet of social distancing, 20 second hand washing and staying home if experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms. Wearing masks will continue to be in place in the aquatic environment.

To slow the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends that as a parent, consider whether children are “capable of staying at least 6 feet apart from people they don’t live with before taking them to a public aquatic venue.” There must be frequent disinfecting and sanitizing of surfaces such as handrails, pool noodles, kickboards, and any and all furniture on the pool deck.

New implemented protocols for recreational and lap swimming might include having to make reservations for a lane with only one person or family group per lane. There might be a limited number of swimmers allowed into the pool area at a time. There is also limited to no use of locker rooms or communal changing areas. Saunas, jacuzzis, and steam rooms, according to the guidelines, should remain closed.

Consider investing and carrying in personal swimming training tools: kickboard, pull buoy, towels, goggles for each swimmer and toys for the children (discourage sharing of toys at this time). Keep in mind, each location – private clubs, gyms, fitness centers and public pools, etc. – may have slight variations in their procedures. You might want to call ahead or check their website to see what safety precautions have been put in place.

Some general considerations from the California Department of Public Health are:

  • Eliminate use of low ventilated spaces and rooms that prevent social distancing, such as locker rooms.
  • Increase water sanitation level.
  • Create visible markers on the floor to indicate appropriate spacing on the pool deck, entrances, etc.
  • Wash hands thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer before/after use of the pool.
  • Do not use the locker room or changing area; wear a bathing suit to and from the pool and shower at home.
  • During recreational swimming, lifeguards will be wearing masks while guarding (removing them when water entry is needed for a rescue).
  • Children over 2 years old to wear masks
  • Masks now required in California

For summer swim lessons you may discover private lessons, semi-private lessons or custom classes made with families living under the same roof to be a safe bet for the family. Perhaps the swim teacher might have one or both parents in the pool with their children while the instructor is teaching from the deck. One may find a water camp with children under 10 enrolled. Check in with the swim school on their drop off and pick-up patterns and other precautions prior to arrival to avoid surprises.

Group activities with over 10 participants have not been approved as yet, but when the swim team resumes, coaches might:

  • Encourage swimmers to wear their suit to and from practice.
  • Bring older swimmers back to practice first, let them learn the system so they can serve to model behavior for younger athletes.
  • Clearly communicate a plan to maintain spacing in the pool during workouts, e.g. staggered starts, opposite ends.
  • Make sure swimmers leave the facility as soon as reasonably possible after practice; shower at home.

Please note that while swimmers and sunbathers are supposed to wear masks poolside, masks that cover the mouth are NOT required (nor recommended) for use in the water. To avoid breathing difficulties a wet mask may pose, DO NOT WEAR a mask or any material covering the mouth or nose while in the water.

As we have seen, situations can – and do – change rapidly in a pandemic. To ensure that we are all up to date with the current information, review CDC.gov and SantaCruzHealth.org for updated local guidelines often. Knowing what is expected from the businesses and what to expect as the customer will ease us into changing and adapting as we adjust. Remember, we are supposed to be opening slowly and gradually. The goal is to stop the spread of the virus; so take the necessary precautions.

We know our Santa Cruz families are eager to get active again. While we want to enjoy some good summer fun in the sun, it can be tough to adjust to limitations. So, let’s focus on participating in activities we can safely enjoy and keep ourselves, our families and our friends safe and healthy this Summer!

Tiffany Harmon, owner and lead instructor of Seahorse Swim School, Inc. is an American Red Cross Instructor Trainer in Water Safety and graduated in 1997 with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from UCSC. (831) 476- 7946 (swim) SeahorseSwimSchool.com Locations: Aptos & Santa Cruz

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