Summer means water, whether it’s a lake, river, swimming pool or hot tub. But now that we’re worrying more about germs, it’s natural to wonder: Will this season’s swimming, floating and soaking be as safe as it used to be?
Yes, many experts say.
There is no evidence of anyone getting infected with coronavirus from water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero-risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”
The chlorine in swimming pools is enough to inactivate the virus, said Dr. Karin Michels, chair of UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology. The U.S. Masters Swimming organization makes the same point in its coronavirus briefing for frequent pool swimmers.
As for rivers and lakes, experts say there are no known cases of COVID-19 transmission through such bodies of water. Also, the outdoors is understood to pose less risk than indoors because of free airflow.
Even if it were theoretically possible, “I’m not concerned about large lakes,” Michels said. “The dilution effect is so humongous that I don’t think there is a risk that anybody gets infected this way.”
Said Cannon: “You’d have to probably drink the entire lake to get an infectious dose of the coronavirus.”
Rather than worry about coronavirus in water, Michels and Cannon said, swimmers should stay well separated and take care before and after entering the pool, lake or river.
“I would be more concerned about touching the same lockers or surfaces in the changing room or on the benches outside the pool. Those are higher risk than the water itself,” Michels said. “The other thing is you have to maintain distance. ... More distance is always better.”
There is at least one other potential threat in the water whose prevalence is confirmed by data: drowning.
Long before the pandemic began, the CDC was estimating 10 drowning deaths per day in the United States. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates 320,000 drowning deaths per year.
If you’re on your own in a pool or lake, Cannon said, “you’re way more likely to drown than get COVID.”