(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Beach bummer: Novel coronavirus can live in water, but is it infectious?

Living in water and being infectious in water are different things

Whether it’s a beach getaway or lakeside lounge, or a quick dip in a community pool, re-introducing water-based activities to daily life could be a lot more worrisome this year.

How safe will these warm-weather pastimes be with the COVID-19 pandemic lingering into the summer months?

While experts say the novel coronavirus can live in water for hours to days, the risk of actually picking it up from swimming is low. The real danger for infection is from people who will be flocking to those areas once they’ve reopened across the country.

“I’m not saying stay away from beaches, I’m saying stay away from crowds,” said Colin Furness, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School for Public Health. “If the beach is crowded, stay away.

“At the same time, and I wouldn’t want people freaking out, but we do need to understand that yes, the virus will live in water.”

Living in water and being infectious in water are different things, though. And experts seem torn on what that means for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.”

Curtis Suttle, an expert in ocean microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia, agrees, saying any amount of virus that’s being shed in the water likely won’t result in spreading the infection.

READ MORE: Here’s a phase-by-phase look at how B.C. hopes to re-open parts of society

“People shouldn’t be afraid of the water, they should be afraid of infected people,” he said.

Furness, meanwhile, says there could be a chance a person might get COVID-19 from swimming, if the virus settles in their intestinal tract after being swallowed.

He stressed that the risk level of that is likely very low. And the severity of it is still unclear.

“Having it in your intestines might not be as bad as breathing it in and having it take root in your lungs, but all the things we’re learning about COVID suggests that you just don’t want (it in) your body at all,” Furness said. ”So there is a risk there. But of course, you see, the odds of this happening are infinitesimally small.”

Furness said diarrhea, which has been a documented, though less common, symptom of COVID-19 might signal a person has contracted the coronavirus intestinally.

A study published Monday in the journal Radiology found bowel abnormalities in a small percentage of patients studied, suggesting the intestine “may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

“We know the virus spike has an affinity for lung cells and intestinal cells, so it’s quite happy to be swallowed and could make its way into your intestines and infect you there,” Furness said. “Now where does it go from there? This is stuff we’re still learning.

“But the real question in all of this is: Are you at a crowded beach or a crowded pool? If (you are) and there’s people splashing around everywhere, there’s more likely to be virus in the water. But you’re also more likely just to get breathed on in that scenario.”

The amount of virus present in a body of water will depend on a number of things. And plenty of environmental factors can lessen the virus’s ability to infect a host.

Furness said an outdoor pool — provided it’s not crowded — would be the safest swimming environment because chlorine used to treat water can kill the coronavirus “after about 15 minutes.” Heat from the sun also acts to limit the virus’s power, and it won’t remain viable for long on concrete pool decks like it can on other softer surfaces.

While indoor pools also contain chlorine, the absence of sunlight make them the least safe option, Furness said, especially considering the number of high-touch surfaces in change rooms and on pool ladders.

Lakes and oceans, while missing chlorine, offer their own benefits, says Suttle. There’s a dilution effect due to the sheer volume of water, and UV deactivates the virus ”really quickly.”

“Coronaviruses aren’t that different than many viruses which can actually survive for quite long periods of time in the water under ideal conditions,” Suttle said. “But if you look at the average half-life … about half of the virus would be removed every four hours. So they don’t persist very long, typically.”

Suttle says people generally ingest “millions” of viruses every time they go swimming in natural waters like lakes or oceans.

The majority of them won’t affect humans, however.

“We’re actually surrounded by a sea of viruses,” Suttle said. ”There’s about 10 million viruses in every millilitre of seawater, but they don’t make us sick, right? … Being able to detect it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s infectious.”

Furness stressed more research may be needed to get a true answer.

“There may be sides to this we don’t know and we’ll have to keep an eye out,” he said. “We may find outbreaks associated with pools and then again, we might not.

“It’s an evolving situation … (because) this is a new virus. A lot of what we say is assumption based on the way other viruses behave. And we can’t be all that certain.”

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

beachesCoronavirusTourism

Just Posted

BC Ferries has announced the welcoming back onboard of recreational travellers on June 15 after the provincial travel restrictions were lifted. (Courtesy of BC Ferries)
BC Ferries welcomes back recreational passengers

The ferries corp will relax mask-wearing in outdoor spaces

Nic Pirillo received $1,000 Youth WORK Apprenticeship Award presented to him by Erik Brooke and Catlin Chandler of Broadwater Industries, in front of the boat Pirillo built in his free time using newly acquired skills. (Photo: supplied)
Learning and earning with apprenticeship

Nic Pirillo graduated in 2020 and was awarded the Youth WORK Trades award

According to the BC Centre of Disease Control epidemiology mapping from May 30 to June 5, there was an increase of one case in the Prince Rupert area after a three-week stability of no new cases. (Image: supplied BC CDC)
Prince Rupert second dose vaccination clinic to run from June 14 to July 9

Volunteers needed for P.R. immunization clinic, recipients must register and cases back up to one

Capt. Portugal was getting into the festive spirit out working for the City of Prince Rupert and celebrating Seafest 2021, on June 12. During regular business hours Capt. Portugal is known as David Costa. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Searching out fun in the sun for Seafest 44

Families and friends can participate in weekend COVID-19 friendly activities

Seafest is underway with a sunfest theme from June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert. Alex Hoogendorn vice president of Prince Rupert Special Events is creating sunny times making feature for the decorating contest with his son Caleb Hoogendorn on June 4. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Seafest 44 plans a sunfest June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert

All events in festival are COVID-19 safe, social distancing and health protocols approved by N.H.A.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read