In some parts of the country, public pools are slowly opening again. While experts agree that swimming is safe as long as the proper precautionary measures are taken, bringing your children to a community pool is completely up to your discretion. Naturally, there are some important safety tips to keep in mind while soaking up the sun. To get a read on what we should be aware of before slathering on our sunscreen, we tapped Sara Bode, MD, a primary care physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, for her best advice.
"A lot of what happens at a public pool isn't just about making contact with others while you're swimming," she explained. "In fact, the water is one of the easiest places to keep a safe distance away from others. But, of course, the more challenging safety aspect is the mixing of groups of people while they're out on the patio decking or outside in the public pool area."
So what exactly should parents be concerned about then? Dr. Bode laid out a few tips to keep families safe.
1. Make sure you practice social distancing on the pool deck and beyond.
Regardless of how much time your family spends splashing around, proper social distancing should always be enforced. From what Dr. Bode has experienced, public pools have been setting up deck chairs in groups that are at least six feet apart. "They're calling them 'pods,'" she explained. "Families can only bring people in their actual family unit to the pool, and they're supposed to stay in their pod and not intermix with other groups of people."
Although social distancing is always important to practice in public, don't be surprised if your children get a little overexcited to see their friends. "Just like any other large gathering place, this is one of the more high-risk activities," Dr. Bode cautioned. "Because kids are kids, they'll likely want to see their friends who are in different pods. It's hard to say to them, 'Well, you can talk across to them in the water, but when you get out you can't.' So I just think that it's a challenging environment to maintain that distancing in."
2. Wear masks when you're not in the water.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), families should come prepared with cloth masks for any person over the age of 2. "Families are often required to wear masks while they're out of the water and on the decking, particularly if they're walking up to restrooms or other common areas that serve food," Dr. Bode said. "The only time they should not wearing the mask is, of course, while they're then in the water swimming."
3. Skip the pool toys.
Although there's not enough data for experts to know whether or not the coronavirus lingers on surfaces, Dr. Bode said it's better to be safe than sorry. "There haven't been enough studies of incidents of COVID-19 in specific water situations yet," she shared. "But we do know that there are some viruses, particularly viruses that live on the skin, that transmit more readily through the water."
Since kids won't be wearing masks in the water, families should avoid pool toys if they can. The CDC discourages sharing "food, equipment, toys, and supplies" with anyone beyond your household. "We know that COVID-19 definitely transmits through droplets," Dr. Bode explained. "Transmission increases when people are yelling, singing, talking loudly, or coughing. Of course, when you have kids near each other and in a water situation, that's going to be more high-risk because they don't have a mask on."
4. Bring your own food, if possible.
If a public pool is opening, it has to follow all the same regulations and restrictions in its food areas as any other location or restaurant. "They should have six feet of spacing between people that are ordering or getting food," Dr. Bode said. "They may have to change it around where there's only one person that goes up to order. Or maybe they're having food delivered to each family's pod. There should be health and safety regulations set up. The other thing I have seen happen is that some public pools are opening, but not offering any snack services, just because that's a whole second layer of risk."
To keep your family's risk as low as possible, bring your own lunch or snacks. "If you're concerned about this, but you want your child to be able to go swimming, consider bringing your own food and snacks," Dr. Bode said. "That way, you're the only one who's touched them and your kids aren't walking around amongst the other families in the common areas."
5. Don't go to the pool if someone in your family is considered high-risk.
Before grabbing their pool bag, parents need to take into consideration any other family members who live with them. "I think every family has to make their own decisions," Dr. Bode said. "But if you are in a situation where you have someone living in your home that's high-risk, this is maybe an activity you just choose to forgo this summer."