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Culture Spotlight

One concern about Covid 19—should we be swimming in swimming pools?

An infectious diseases expert assures it’s still generally safe to enjoy our pools, but an environment agency in Singapore notes the importance of taking precautionary measures as the outbreak shows no sign of abating.
Rhia Diomampo Grana | Mar 07 2020

Summer beckons in our part of the world. But amid plotting vacation plans, many are fraught with worries, as the cases of COVID-19 have reached alarming levels in many countries. As of this writing, the Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, bringing the total to five.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person—between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

A person could also possibly get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Considering that the respiratory droplets of an infected person can possibly go into the pools, the question that begs an answer is: it still safe to go swimming during this period? Can the virus be transmitted through water?

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In an article published by health plus, Dr. Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist practicing at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Singapore, says it is generally safe to go swimming during this period. “Water—and the chlorine—within swimming pools will help to kill the virus. What you’ll have to be mindful of are the interactions you have with others outside the swimming pool,” he cautions.

The COVID-19 situation is evolving, and characteristics of the virus are still being determined, but Singapore has started to put in place safety measures to avoid the spread of the virus. “For now, there is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 can be transmitted through swimming pools,” notes the National Environment Agency (NEA), a leading public organization responsible for ensuring a clean and green environment, and the sustainable development of Singapore.

But for everyone’s safety, NEA is urging the management and owners of swimming pools to conduct daily testing of the pool water for pH and disinfectant levels and maintain a regular cleansing regime to ensure that the water quality complies with the Environmental Public Health (Swimming Pools) Regulations at all times.

Users of swimming pools, on the other hand, are directed to observe good public hygiene practices such as showering before entering the pool to remove impurities typically found on bodies, and to not spit into the pool. NEA admonishes the public: “If you’re unwell, please avoid using the pool.”

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How prepared are our hotels and resorts for COVID-19?

A major hotel chain—the chain requested not to be named—in the country assures they do daily cleaning and treatment of their pools to ensure that PH level of the water is at an acceptable level. “This will eliminate several known bacteria. But since not much is known yet about COVID-19, we really can’t confirm if the virus cannot be transmitted via pool water. Unfortunately, we really can’t be sure if current processes are enough to combat the virus,” admits our source.

A rep from a luxury hotel—who requested the hotel not be named—also shares that they follow the standard practice in swimming pool maintenance. To ensure the safety of their guests amid the COVID-19 scare, they made the conscious effort to place hand sanitizing stations in strategic areas around the property. He says they are keen to follow additional precautionary measures if the Health Department deems it necessary.

NEA admonishes the public: “If you’re unwell, please avoid using the pool.”

Meanwhile, a rep from the management of a resort—the resort requested not be named—shares that they were previously treating their pools with acid and chlorine, a combination that’s known to be stronger than antiseptic alcohol. But they have recently ceased using acid and minimized the use of chlorine, and have shifted to earth-friendly cleaners such as organic algaecide and clarifier. “It saved us maintenance cost, and we have more natural and clearer water,” says the resort’s operations manager.

He adds that environmentally friendly cleaners are milder on the skin, and safer when accidentally ingested. “Our shift to the more environmentally friendly cleaners is of our effort to care for Mother Nature. But we have no data with regards to its effect on viruses, bacteria, and disease,” he admits. During summertime, when they have more guests, they constantly add water and treat it daily, since they have a big swimming pool.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it’s hard to predict how long the outbreak will last and how the epidemic will evolve overall. We are dealing with a new virus and therefore uncertainty remains. We can only hope that the transmission will decrease during the summer, as is observed for seasonal influenza.