Is it safe to go to the pool during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sophie Heywood

We are living in stressful times. Our usual routines are disrupted and we are now having to consider our risks connected to COVID-19 in everyday life as well as thinking about our exercise and rehabilitation options.

Can COVID-19 be spread in pools?

There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools. Pool managers are following many guidelines from both Department of Health advice along with advice from other industry bodies to screen people’s health, to limit numbers in the pool and to ensure pool chemistry is correct as well as many other strategies.

In our research in May 2020, nearly 70% of the 38 people surveyed had some level of concern about going back to the pool although most were keen to restart. Peoples concerns fall into a few main categories including pool water, changerooms, physical distancing / crowding and people coughing/spitting into the water. People want to know that pool operators are following government advice, testing the pool regularly, limiting numbers, being responsible and following all the right protocols, instituting good cleaning routines, providing clear information to participants based on guidelines and taking the situation seriously. 

Aquatic Physiotherapy practice has long incorporated clear guidance on screening people before they attend the pool, as well as supervision, safety, managing water quality and infection control. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced emerging guidance on the way back from international aquatic physiotherapy organisations. Additionally, a group of experienced clinicians from the Australian Physiotherapy Association Aquatic Physio Group is working hard to formulate recommendations for clinical practice.  Sheba Hydrotherapy service in Israel is famous for using Virtual Reality in the pool. They stayed open during the pandemic and our Managing Director Sophie Heywood, interviewed the manager of Sheba Hydrotherapy service about how they managed risk. Sheba Hydrotherapy recently returned to treating outpatients and also rehabilitation patient post-covid 19 diagnosis in the pool. Some hydrotherapy pools in Australia also stayed open in March, April and May 2020 without any adverse incidents.  

Research from the UK in showed 78 confirmed Covid-19 cases among more than 22 million visits to over 1500 UK facilities from the end of July to the middle of September 2020. The key to this success, as outlined in the research from ukactive is clear policies and protocols at facilities.

Why we should get back to pool exercise?

Swimming, aqua fitness, hydrotherapy and aquatic physiotherapy all offer something positive to a huge range of people. Water exercise offers a place to be successful with movement and rehabilitation when people find land-based exercise difficult due to pain or weakness, for example, those with arthritis. For others with limited mobility, getting back into the pool for exercise has value for both their physical and mental wellbeing. For those without significant health issues, the pool also offers freedom of movement, a high intensity workout and a place to destress. 

Let’s hope we are all back enjoying the water as soon as possible.