As summer heats up, here's what you need to know about cooling off amid coronavirus

May 21, 2020 06:30 PM
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Credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty

Summer 2020 probably won't be making a big splash at the local pool.

As states begin to loosen restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many are wondering what warm-weather activities we can safely return to. Visiting a shared pool, for now, isn't likely one of them.

"Public pools are an open question," says Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University and a member of several coronavirus task forces.

"Chlorination will neutralize the virus — with that I am confident," he says, but it's the environment around the pool that is a bigger danger to visitors' health. "The real problem now is the issue of crowding. Crowds need to be avoided." Stringent cleaning measures will need to be upheld to have any hope of keeping swimmers safe, something Norton doesn't see happening in many places.

"Municipal pools are likely to struggle with the costs of likely required modifications.  I predict some of those will not be open this summer," he says. If your local pool does open, remember to practice safe social distancing of at least 6 feet and wash hands often as you'll be coming in contact with lots of high-touch surfaces.

Scientists also don't yet know everything about how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) behaves in water. "There have been lots of problems with public pools in the past, with other types of water-borne pathogens," says Norton. "For now, I would recommend not going that route, at least until we have a better handle on the dynamics of the environmental survival of the virus." Environmental survival refers to how it fares in water versus on surfaces or in the air.

Private backyard pools are a much safer bet as long as they're used by small groups who have been following recommended safety and sanitation guidelines. For this reason, Norton notes, he expects to see backyard pool sales "increase significantly in the coming months."

Local news outlets from New Jersey to Vermont to San Diego have already documented a spike in above-ground and pop-up pool purchases among families who are looking to stay entertained at home without vacations or camp on the horizon.

Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort

Water parks are another question mark, as major resorts start to introduce phased plans to reopen to the public after months-long closures.

"Big corporations like Disney are developing safety protocols, which they will soon be implementing," says Norton, who expressed his confidence that large companies "will come up with the appropriate protocol solutions." Still, like so many things about the theme park experience in the near future, he says, they "may be very different than they have been in the past."