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Is it safe to swim in a pool, lake or the ocean? Coronavirus questions answered

Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Summer always means water, whether it's an ocean, 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, surfing, floating and soaking be as safe as it used to be?

Yes, many experts say.

"There is no data that somebody got infected this way (with coronavirus)," said professor Karin B. Michels, chair of UCLA's Department of Epidemiology, in a recent interview.

"I can't say it's absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean," 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."

On web pages giving pandemic advice, the federal Centers for Disease Control say, "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."

As both professors noted, the chlorine in most swimming pools is enough to inactivate the virus. The U.S. Masters Swimming organization makes the same point in its coronavirus briefing for frequent pool swimmers.

 

As for rivers, lakes and the ocean, experts say there are no known cases of COVID-19 transmission through those bodies of water. Also, the outdoors is understood to pose less risk than indoors because of free air flow.

Surfrider Foundation staff scientist Katie Day has written, "Similar coronaviruses (to COVID-19) have been shown to remain viable and infectious, at least temporarily, in natural freshwater environments including lakes and streams." But researchers say they aren't sure if it's possible for humans to contract COVID-19 that way.

Even if it was theoretically possible, "I'm not concerned about the ocean and 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."

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