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Stony Brook Medicine Experts Share Pool Safety Advice During COVID-19

As temperatures continue to rise across Long Island, many are heading in the pool to cool off. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, is it safe to take a dip in the pool? Stony Brook Medicine experts offer their advice.

Sharon Nachman, MD, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, says pool safety requires a different mindset this year. Dr. Nachman shares why children and families should be able to enjoy swimming this summer season:

  • The most important issue is not transmission of COVID-19 while swimming in a pool, but rather the time gathering around a pool. If people gather around too closely and in large groups, that is an added risk for transmission of this dangerous virus.
  • A good rule of thumb is to stretch one’s arms out from your body. If someone is within that length of you sitting or standing around a pool, it’s too close. Take precaution and physically distance from each other.
  • The risk of contracting COVID-19 from someone in a pool is small mainly because pools are chlorinated, which kills the virus. Plus, the volume of water dilutes the virus, therefore water splashing would not likely carry COVID-19 in a chlorinated pool. Saltwater pools are also safe, as saltwater kills the virus too.

When it comes to public pools, follow these guidelines: 

  • If you are feeling sick or a child is not feeling well, do not go to a public pool.
  • Sit and hang around with your family members who you know do not have COVID-19. Do not gather closely with strangers.
  • Pay attention to town and municipality rules. Some towns may limit the number of people who can be at the pool location or have certain social distancing policies for reasons of safety.

Dr. Nachman adds that safety against infections and disease is not just about COVID-19 and applies for any year. While contracting COVID-19 remains a threat in societal settings with large groups of people or those in close contact, she says please remember there are other infectious disease threats in summer pool settings. 

  • Outside food brought to a pool party: Food can get contaminated or spoil if left out in the heat or sun. 
  • Other viruses: Viruses including coxsackie (hand, foot and mouth disease) are typically seen in the summer months.
  • Mosquitoes: Don’t discount the dangers of mosquitoes that feed at dusk. Families are advised to think about what they are wearing at dusk on a hot summer day.

COVID-19 is not the only thing families should keep in mind as they hit the pool. According to the CDC, about ten people die from unintentional drowning each day. Of those, two are children aged 14 or younger. Kristi L. Ladowski, MPH, Injury Prevention & Outreach Coordinator for the Stony Brook Medicine Trauma Center has some overlooked pool dangers to watch out for at any age:

  • Knowing how to swim does not mean someone is drown-proof.
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that nearly 60% of children under 5 years old were not expected to be in or around the pool when they drowned.
  • The presence of adults is not the same as someone actively supervising children in and around pools.
  • Drowning is silent and can happen in seconds.

When it’s time to swim, Ladowski says to designate a Water Watcher. It is common for a group of adults to be around, but no one is actively supervising the pool. Water Watchers should:

  • Be one specific person at a time
  • Only watch the pool; do not socialize, read, or use electronic devices
  • Switch off with other adults for breaks, designate Water Watchers for shifts (such as 15 minutes)
  • Have a cell phone nearby only for use in case of an emergency
  • Stay sober

Toddlers and children up to 4 years old are at the greatest risk of drowning both indoors and outdoors. It only takes an inch of water for a young child to drown. Here are a few extra tips for this age group:

  • Use “touch supervision” in and around pools and bathtubs; always staying within arm’s reach
  • If you need to leave the pool area or bathroom, take your toddler with you
  • Empty all containers after use; buckets, wading pools, coolers with melted ice
  • Remove all floats and toys from the pool so children are not tempted
  • Prevent children from going outside unnoticed using locks and safety gates
  • Make sure adults and older children know to always close doors so toddlers can’t get outside

Lastly, Ladowski urges those spending time by the pool to remember the importance of learning CPR in case an emergency does arise.

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