As the world deals with the constantly evolving global pandemic of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), it is important to know the scientific facts about what the world is dealing with, and if swimming pools are safe. We’ve compiled helpful information from over a dozen Health Authority notices and Scientific Papers related to if Coronavirus can spread through water and swimming.
What’s the difference between Coronavirus, Novel Coronavirus, and COVID-19?
According to the WHO, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
You will likely recognize the above term SARS from the 2002-2004 outbreak that scared the world with over 8000 cases and 774 deaths. The formal name for the coronavirus from that outbreak is SARS-CoV-1 which is short for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 1.”
Coronaviruses are naturally hosted and evolutionarily shaped by bats, however it is unclear how they evolved to be able to spread to humans. There are currently 7 known coronaviruses that can infect humans, with new ones able to be discovered anytime in the future.
How did Novel Coronavirus start?
Novel Coronavirus is the new coronavirus that was first discovered in December of 2019 in Wuhan, China. It’s thought that the virus was transmitted to a human from animals being sold in a Wuhan Seafood Market. While coronaviruses typically originate from bats, there’s unpublished evidence that this new coronavirus shares 99% genetic similarity to a virus from pangolins. As the scientific community continued to gather information from Wuhan, the Novel Coronavirus was first called various names such as “Wuhan Virus,” and “2019-NCov,” before better analysis and naming could be done.
Closely resembling the genetic structure of SARS-CoV-1, the Novel Coronavirus causing a global pandemic in 2020 was named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses on February 11, 2020, to be SARS-CoV-2, which is short for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.”
COVID-19 is the disease caused by Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)
COVID-19 which breaks down to mean Corona “CO” virus “VI” Disease “D” 2019 “-19” is the infectious disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Why differentiate a disease from a virus? The WHO states that viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Diseases like COVID-19 are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment.
COVID-19 is so dangerous because it has spread faster than any virus outbreak like SARS that we’ve seen before, and has high hospitality and fatality rates. A study by the CDC COVID-19 Response Team found the fatality rate likely varies between 1.8% – 3.4% of those infected, with 20.7% – 31.4% of cases requiring hospitalization. While all ages can get the disease, it most significantly effects the elderly and those with pre-existing chronic illnesses, with Italian researchers saying 99% of fatalities had a pre-existing illness.
This is important because the number of patients requiring intensive health care support would quickly outpace the healthcare system’s ability to provide treatment to everyone. Without a vaccine or other measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team estimates that 2.2 million Americans could die if COVID-19 is left to spread easily, not accounting for any additional deaths from a burdened healthcare system. Using methods like social distancing and self-isolation can slow the spread of the disease until a vaccine can be found.
Novel Coronavirus spreads faster than any virus outbreak like SARS that we’ve seen before, making it much more dangerous.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks and they spread airborne droplets that contain SARS-CoV-2 for a short distance, which quickly settle on nearby surfaces. You may get the virus when you then touch those infected surfaces and then touch your eyes, mouth, and/or nose.
There is also limited evidence that the virus can have a presence in feces and/or the blood of those that are infected, but no noted transmissions through contact with the virus in these methods. Overall, the virus is much more likely to be spread through the airborne droplets from a cough or a sneeze.
How long can Coronavirus live on surfaces?
A recent study by National Institute of Health scientists has found that SARS-CoV-2 can remain viable to infect others with COVID-19 for up to 3 days on different surfaces. The researchers found that the virus can last for up to:
- 3 hours in the air
- 24 hours on cardboard
- 48 hours on stainless steel
- 72 hours on plastic
While up to 72 hours can be a long time to last on common everyday materials such as plastic and stainless steel, the median half-life of SARS-CoV-2 was found to be approximately 5.6 hours on stainless steel and 6.8 hours on plastic. The median half-life of the virus is the most common length of time it takes for half of the virus to decay and become incapable of infecting. Since their research found the virus decays faster as time goes on, you would have significantly less risk of getting infected after these few hours.
Can Coronavirus spread in water or by swimming?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated:
“There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs. Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.”
In fact, COVID-19 has not been detected in even regular Municipal tap drinking water, let alone a properly chlorinated and disinfected swimming pool. As long as proper filtration and disinfection is used, your pool water and drinking water should be safe.
Why are pools closed during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Public Health Officials and property managers have begun closing public and/or community & condo swimming pools and recommending individuals reduce contact with each other through social distancing. Since Coronavirus is a respiratory disease that is most easily spread through close human contact, Authorities are recommending limiting public group sizes to smaller than 10 or 50 people. These closures are an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 by preventing areas people can gather in close contact in large groups, not because pools are inherently unsafe.
Are swimming lessons safe during the Coronavirus outbreak?
Guidance will change based on the current recommendations of your Public Health Professionals, however at the moment (April 2020) swimming lessons and pools are safe, but most lesson providers and pools are on pause to support social distancing and flattening the curve to relieve stress on the medical system.
Even when social distancing is relaxed, the world will be on high alert for any signs of spikes in cases of COVID-19 until a vaccine can be mass produced. Until then, it’s best to remain cautious and avoid large group settings to reduce the risk you or your loved ones get infected.
Swimming is a life-saving skill and everyone should learn to stay safe and confident around the water when pools start to open. As restrictions relax, private swimming lessons in your at-home or apartment pool can be a great way to ensure you avoid large groups and crowded pools.