You can have fun without fear, as long as you observe the social distancing measures we’ve adopted as routine over the last few months. Now, you just have to do it in while you float in an inner tube.
We asked two infectious disease experts about how to have coronavirus-free fun at your favorite waterfronts. Here’s their advice for a sunny, safer summer.
Basics of social distancing
Before you go
The risk of infection is thought to be lower outside, where wind can blow the virus away.
But like anything in the age of coronavirus, there’s risk in recreation, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and longtime adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You can do all these things,” he told CNN.”You just have to keep yourself distant.”
Find out the pool or beach’s safety protocol. Is the pool or beach restricting the number of people who have access at one time? Some facilities may ask patrons to leave after their allotted time is up to limit capacity.
Come prepared. Shared lawn chairs or pool toys may not be disinfected between visitor rotations. You can bring your own disinfectant wipes to clean your seat when you arrive. You should also pack a cloth face mask (or two, in case one gets wet) to wear out of the water.
In the water
Coronavirus is not likely to spread in water, the CDC says. Disinfecting chemicals such as chlorine and bromine can “inactivate” the virus in the water. The CDC doesn’t specify how long it takes the virus to inactivate, though.
The same guidance doesn’t exist for saltwater or freshwater. There’s still a lot we don’t know about Covid-19, so the safest thing to do is maintain ample distance from others.
Don’t wear a mask in the water. It’s just not practical! A wet mask can be dangerous if it obstructs your breathing. Save the mask for when you’re back on land.
Keep your distance. Remember, people spread coronavirus, not water. Don’t swim close enough to other people that you’ll come in contact with their spit or breath.
Practice good hygiene. Please, don’t blow your nose or spit in the pool or near another person. If you can, exit the water and use a tissue to cough or sneeze, then wash your hands. Frequent hand washing is a must, too, even if you’re swimming. Odds are you’ll come near other people, anyway.
On dry land
Infectious disease experts are “guardedly optimistic” that people can enjoy the outdoors this summer without infection if they do it right, said Dr. Thomas Feteke, chair of the Department of Medicine at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine and infectious disease specialist.
Many reopened beaches are limiting activity to exercise, but there’s nothing harmful about lounging or tanning as long as you’re staying away from others, he said.
Keep your distance. Keep at least six feet of distance from other people out of the water, too. In its guidelines for recreational water facilities, the CDC recommends facilities space out deck chairs at least six feet apart on decks so patrons don’t breathe on each other.
Know when it’s too crowded to stay. Everyone’s got the same idea to beat the heat – go where the water is. If you arrive when it’s too crowded to get some space, it may be best to turn around, Feteke said.
Wear a mask. Whether you’re in a public restroom, the parking lot or a food stand, it’s smart to wear a mask whenever you’re out of the water since you may come in contact with others, Schaffner said.
With other people
You’re safe to explore public waterfronts with people you’ve been isolating with for over a week, Feteke said. But if you’ll be around strangers or friends you haven’t seen in some time, know that your risk is upped.
And remember, Schaffner said – the larger the group, the greater your risk.
Stay home if you’re vulnerable. The people most at risk – older adults and people with chronic illnesses – should be wary that if they become infected, they’re more likely to become severely ill from coronavirus. Whether that’s enough to stay home is up to them.
Wear a mask. If you’re hungry for companionship again, Fekete suggested you wear a mask if you can (so, not while swimming). Schaffner said that goes for people on boats and other aquatic vehicles, too.
Impose a time limit. The length of your exposure to another person heightens your risk of infection. It’s best not to linger too long, so set an end time to the fun and stick to it.
Keep your circle small. If you’ve stuck to the CDC’s “no more than 10 people” rule for your isolation crew, great. Otherwise, politely decline an invitation to mid-pandemic parties or any gatherings that will put you in the middle of a crowd, even if they’re at a beach.
In the heat
Scientists are eager to see whether the virus weakens in the summer, and one experiment showed UV light and bleach may kill coronavirus on a park bench. Still, hedging your bets on summer weather to protect you is unwise, Schaffner said.
“There may be something to that, but it doesn’t make you bulletproof,” he said.
Keep up the hygiene. Sunlight won’t clean your hands. Wash them frequently when you’re around other people in public.
Don’t forget sunscreen. A mask only protects the bottom half of your face, after all! Remember to apply regularly when you’re out in the sun, but have a member of your isolation squad apply it if you’re having trouble – minimizing contact with strangers is still key.
We get it – you’ve been cooped up for so long that you’re itching to swim in the sun again. Your risk of infection won’t be zero if you go, but you can whittle it down if you’re careful. Oh, and don’t forget towels!