Editor's note:  Is it safe to get back to the life you knew? As services come back, we’re asking our doctors and other providers to help answer those questions in a series called Navigating COVID: Back to life. You’ll find those stories, and many others, here. Got a question? Email [email protected].

COVID-19 has changed everything. And the annual summer ritual of spending time at the pool is just one more treasured routine that’s changing. Keeping the kids away from the pool all summer is going to be tough, if not impossible. For many, “summer” and “swimming” are practically synonymous.

Selden_Kym_Head_NoCoat_web
Dr. Kym Selden

First some good news: There’s currently no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. In fact, there’s “strong evidence that shows that, as long as the chemistry of the pool water is optimally maintained, we should not have to worry about transmission of the virus through water,” said Dr. Kym Selden, a physician with Novant Health Pediatrics Concord.

However, there’s a lot more to consider before grabbing the goggles. Social distancing is still highly recommended – and that’s no easy feat for kids who have been cooped up and are finally let loose in a pool.     

What else should you consider?

Hand hygiene and ‘respiratory etiquette’

“Washing” hands in the pool doesn’t count. Before getting in the pool, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Or use hand sanitizer with 60% (or higher) alcohol content.

Respiratory etiquette – a term that may become as common as “social distancing” – is essential, Selden said. “If you’re coughing, you shouldn’t go to the pool. If you have to cough or sneeze – and don’t have time to grab a tissue – then do it into the crook of your elbow. And, make sure you wash your hands afterward.”

Face coverings

In a public space, wear a cloth face covering, said Selden. Not in the pool – but anytime you’re out and around the pool. When physical distancing is difficult, face coverings are even more important.

Ask questions

As states and cities continue to open up after a period of quarantine – and as temperatures soar – pools and pool areas may become more crowded than is ideal. Parents are asking Selden: Is it even safe to go to the pool?

That depends. “If whoever is running the community or neighborhood pool has clear-cut protocols for activities around the pool,” then you can probably proceed – with extreme caution.

Before going, ask the pool management: What cleaning protocols and products are you using? (The products should be on the EPA’s approved list.) Have you configured seating in a way that makes social distancing easy? Do you have adequate soap, paper towels and no-touch trash cans? Do you have adequate signage explaining the new safety rules? Do you have staggered times when people can be in the pool so you avoid overcrowding?

Since there are a lot of frequently touched surfaces at the pool – chairs, handrails, slides, door handles and more – ask about disinfection protocols.

In water as on land

Kids naturally want to play in the pool, and that involves being in close contact. But the best advice is still to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are outside your household unit. “It’s one thing for groups of siblings engaged in horseplay or a parent and child to be touching, but there’s a different level of risk when you’re talking about children from different households,” Selden said. “That’s going to be a particular challenge. But the rule applies in the pool the same way it does on the playground.”

Swim and dive teams

“Just as with any youth sports that may proceed this summer, it’s important that coaches implement and enforce social distancing among teammates,” Selden said. “For indoor swimming pools, venue operators should ensure that ventilation systems are working properly. If it’s possible to open windows and doors, that would be great.”

Details, details, details

There’s even more to consider before venturing out to the pool. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive list of what to know before deciding if pool time is right for you and your family. The CDC has thought of things you may not have considered – protecting vulnerable staff, staggered shifts, isolating anyone who gets sick, setting up a system that clearly separates cleaned and sanitized chairs from those yet to be cleaned.

The words “summer” and “carefree” used to go together like “hot” and “humid.” But the coronavirus has changed that, too. A trip to the pool now must involve careful planning, a lot of questioning and a watchful eye. Pandemics and pools don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but they do require vigilance.