In mid-May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on its website “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas.” It added that ”proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.”
However, by late May, the organization’s response to the question of whether the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through pools, spas, hot tubs and water-play areas had been amended to something more vague: “While there is ongoing community spread of COVID-19 of the virus that causes COVID-19, it is important for individuals as well as owners and operators of these facilities to take steps to ensure health and safety.”
To that end, the CDC offers the following guidelines for public aquatic facilities to promote healthy hygiene.
- Encourage all staff, patrons and swimmers to wash their hands often and cover their coughs and sneezes.
- Encourage the use of masks, when feasible. That said, masks should not be worn in the water. Cloth face coverings can be difficult to breathe through when they’re wet.
- Educate staff, patrons and swimmers about coronavirus symptoms and ask them to stay home when they are displaying symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days.
- Provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene. This includes soap, hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol), paper towels, tissues and no-touch trash cans.
- Post signs about how to stop the spread of COVID-19, properly wash hands and effectively wear a mask in highly visible locations.
- Regularly broadcast announcements about how to stop the spread of germs on the PA system. (The CDC has recordings you can use.)
- Change deck layouts to ensure that individuals in standing and seating areas can remain at least six feet apart from those they don’t live with.
Facility operators also are encouraged to frequently clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as handrails, slides and play features; lounge chairs, tabletops and kickboards; and door handles, restroom and locker room surfaces, handwashing stations and showers.
Additionally, checklist items for indoor aquatic facilities should include ensuring ventilation systems operate properly and increasing the introduction and circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors or using fans. (The CDC warns, however, to not open windows or doors “if doing so poses a safety risk to staff, patrons or swimmers.”)
Many swim leagues have canceled their summer seasons — including those in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and several other states — and high school and college swimming seasons remain in limbo for this fall and winter.