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Here's What Public Pools Might Look Like This Summer

A community pool in the summer.

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 is effectively killed by chlorinated water, and there's currently no evidence it can spread to people through recreational water.
  • There is no federal guideline for pool protocols, so rules may vary by state and county.
  • When outside of the pool, social distancing and wearing masks is important to curb the spread of the virus.

As summer approaches, many are anxious to break out the sunscreen and pool floaties. With more than a quarter of Americans now vaccinated, will this summer resurface some of those beloved warm-weather activities, like going to the pool?

When it comes to pool time, the answer is a firm maybe. In the case of going to the pool, even after being fully vaccinated, your risk levels depend on the safety measures you take.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines or two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson shot.

The good news is that COVID-19 is inactivated by chlorine, a common chemical additive to commercial pools. And there's currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through recreational water.

The riskiest part of swimming in a public pool are the moments when you're out of the water, on the deck, or walking to other public areas, such as the changing rooms or restrooms. In cases like these, masking up and social distancing are crucial.

A Patchwork of Protocols

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance for pool operators last summer, the federal government hasn't released guidelines to local municipalities, so policies for public pools vary from state to state and city to city.

For water-based team sports facilitators, like the U.S. Olympic Water Polo, the vacillating rules pose a challenge.

"One of the main difficulties is that the Department of Public Health in every state that we work with has produced their guidelines of what sports need to do and what school districts and facilities need to do, but there has not been a uniform standard of how to return to the water safely," Ryan Cunnane, director of events and sports growth of USA Water Polo, tells Verywell.

The organization spans the country and works with teams on many levels of competition. Working with 50 different sets of standards can be challenging.

Even with state health department guidance, school districts, where teams are often formed, aren't obligated to abide by the guidelines. In many areas, the local infection rates govern whether pools are open, despite the relative safety of a chlorinated pool.

This autonomy created a patchwork of open and closed pool facilities, which is difficult to organize club-level play around. And despite the scientific evidence available, many are still hesitant to return to the water.

"In some cases, people have misclassified water polo as a contact sport," Chris Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, tells Verywell. "There is no evidence of people getting COVID-19 from playing water polo in a pool. If there is a potential weak link, it's in locker rooms and pool decks and making sure that the pool is actually managed correctly."

What This Means For You

Swimming in a public, chlorinated pool carries a relatively low risk of infection, especially if you're fully vaccinated. But when in the water, it's important to social distance since masks cannot be worn. The standard safety procedures should apply out of the water—wear your mask and stay three to six feet apart.

Slowly Relaxing Rules

So what does it mean to manage an aquatic center correctly? Doug Schroeder, an administrator for the Kansas City parks and recreation department, tells Verywell that while last year, the municipal pools were open in two-hour increments to allow for deep cleaning throughout the day and crowd management, this summer will look much more like normal, albeit at reduced capacity.

"We're going to start at 50% capacity and then review things based on infection rates in the area," Schroeder says. "We may move up to 60% capacity after a month if rates are staying low."

Since recent research shows that surface transmission of COVID-19 is relatively low, Schroeder says they will sanitize high touch areas like ladders, bathrooms, doors, and railings throughout the day but won't pause operations at set intervals.

Instead, masks will be required when swimmers are not actively in the water, and chairs will be spaced to accommodate social distancing.

How to Stay Safe at the Pool

The CDC offers some guidance on how to have a safe while at the pool:

  • Social distance when in the water. Staff and patrons should stay at least 6 feet (a few inches longer than a typical pool noodle) away from people they don’t live with, both in and out of the water. This includes not gathering at the ends of swim lanes, behind starting blocks, or on stairs into the water or up to the diving board. 
  • Wear face masks outside of the pool. But make sure to leave it off in the water. A wet cloth mask can make it difficult to breathe and likely will not work correctly. And bring an extra cloth mask in case the first one gets wet.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is an option if soap isn't available. However, hand sanitizers might not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so wiping off sunscreen before applying hand sanitizer might be helpful.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States. Updated April 20, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds during COVID-19. Updated February 1, 2021.