(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

Langley Mustangs high jumper Aiden Grout, seen here in McLeod Athletic Park in Langley in 2019, has just qualified for several top international competitions, including the Olympic trials. (Photo courtesy Vid Wadhwani)
VIDEO: With one jump, Langley Mustangs high jumper Aiden Grout has qualified for three international competitions

Maple Ridge resident records new personal best at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley

A local letter writer would appreciate if cyclists would think more about safety while riding in the area of River Road in North Langley. (Black Press Media files)
LETTER: North Langley route popular with cyclists but letter writer urges caution

A road user has concerns about some of the cycling habits she’s seeing in the area of River Road

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole spoke to members of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce via a Zoom chat with chamber CEO Colleen Clark on Friday, June 11. (Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Conservative leader talks tourism, trade, SkyTrain with Langley Chamber

The virtual fireside chat included talk about childcare and the budget

Deeba Mostafaie-Mehr, Setare Maleki Rizi, and Olivia Chen Xu from R.E. Mountain Secondary are recipients of three prestigious scholarships. (Langley School District/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley STEM students shine as recipients of prestigious scholarships

Three students from R.E. Mountain Secondary recognized

The new Langley Memorial Hospital emergency room opened for its first patients on Tuesday, May 4. (Government of B.C./Special to the Langley Advance Times)
LETTER: Aldergrove woman underwhelmed with new hospital ER

New ER is nice but needs adequate staffing, local woman writes

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

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read