Into the cool water? Bathing in Corona times

The outdoor pools are slowly reopening, with indoor and wellness pools to follow. How can a new beginning work and how high is the risk of infection?

Bathing fun with restrictions: distance and hygiene rules must also be observed in the outdoor pool

© plainpicture / trubavin

Right now, when indoor pools have been closed for weeks and the outdoor pool season is only just beginning, we long for water, warmth and relaxation. But the carefree swimming pool experience - as we have known it since our childhood - will not be there this summer. Although the indoor and outdoor pools are gradually reopening in the federal states, there will be numerous changes. The most important questions and answers:

When do the swimming pools open?

Federal states and municipalities have drawn up different schedules and concepts for the outdoor and indoor pools: In North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Brandenburg the outdoor pools are already open, in Baden-Württemberg swimming courses are allowed to take place again. Bavaria plans to follow suit from June 8th, and Hesse is also planning to open it soon.

The reopening of thermal baths and wellness areas as well as saunas will take even longer, but concepts are already being worked on as to how the necessary hygiene and distance rules can be adhered to.

How big is the risk of infection?

Viruses and bacteria get into the water, that's for sure. Everyone loses around two billion microorganisms when they bathe - most of them come from the skin. But also pathogens such as noro-, hepatitis or rotaviruses and salmonella are among them.

"The new coronavirus is also released into the water," says Dr. Georg-Christian Zinn, Director of the Center for Hygiene and Infection Prevention at Bioscientia in Ingelheim.

Nevertheless, you don't have to be afraid of an infection: "It is theoretically possible to get infected if you swallow water or are spat on for fun," says Zinn. But the risk of becoming infected in this way is very low. Because even if viruses get into the water, they are diluted so much that the possibility of infection is extremely low.

How clean is the swimming pool water?

In addition, the water in outdoor and indoor pools is constantly cleaned. According to the Infection Protection Act, swimming pools must adhere to strict hygiene measures and ensure that visitors are not endangered by pathogens.

The contaminants (e.g. cosmetics and microorganisms) accumulate on so-called flocculants and can thus be filtered out. With ultrafiltration, the water is pressed through porous membranes - even bacteria and viruses can be held back in this way.

Even more important: German bathing water is relatively strongly chlorinated. Just before the water flows back into the pool after cleaning, chlorine is added to it. The disinfectant effectively kills bacteria and viruses and also attacks the new type of coronavirus, because it is very sensitive due to its fat shell. It is closely checked whether the water is sufficiently chlorinated.

Can the virus spread through the ventilation systems?

The risk of infection outside the pool is slightly greater: swimming pools are tiled almost everywhere and are regularly cleaned and disinfected there. "But of course the cleaning staff cannot wipe and disinfect everywhere all the time," explains hygienist Zinn.

"Therefore, above all, the number of visitors must be reduced and their distance must be kept." However, there is no need to fear that it will spread through the ventilation systems in the swimming pools, as the systems are usually operated with outside air (much more frequently than other buildings) and the air is constantly changed.

How many visitors are allowed in the swimming pool?

The same applies to bathing: keep your distance. Therefore, the German Society for the Bathing Industry (DGfdB) has developed a precise, quite complicated concept of how many visitors are allowed to use the bathroom this summer. The calculation is based on a special key that includes the size of the water and sunbathing areas.

"Quite clear: the bathrooms will be able to let in significantly fewer bathers," says hygienist Dr. Georg-Christian Zinn. "If a swimming pool used to have to close the doors for 3,000 visitors, it will now perhaps have to close with 400 people." To avoid long lines and disappointed visitors, some swimming pools will likely switch to online ticket booking.

Which distance and hygiene rules apply?

The distance and hygiene rules must also be adhered to in the swimming pool in order to avoid infection with Sars-CoV-2. The German Society for the Bathing Industry makes numerous suggestions for this:

  • Distance markings on the floor for queues
  • Mask requirement for indoor pools from entering the bathroom to the locker room, for outdoor pools in closed rooms, such as toilets and changing rooms.
  • Plexiglass protection on the cash registers
  • Opportunities for cashless and contact-free payments
  • Online reservation system to limit the number of visitors
  • Disinfect loungers and seats daily, only set them up at a distance of 1.5 meters
  • Distance markings on the ground in front of attractions (slides, diving boards, etc.).
  • Marking on the lying areas (circles or lines)
  • Distance markings in changing rooms and toilets
  • Mobile splash protection walls in showers
  • Daily disinfection of the sanitary and pool areas as well as loungers (instead of only once or twice a week as before)

Will there be more staff and controls?

"The operators of the swimming pools will definitely need more staff to point out the distance rules and to enforce compliance," expects the infectiologist Zinn.

However, the legislation does not require complete supervision in swimming pools, according to the updated technical report "Pandemic Plan Pools" by the German Society for Bathing (DGfdB). So everyone is responsible for themselves and their health.

Do the paddling pools have to be closed?

In the children's area it can get really crowded at times. The German Society for Bathing therefore recommends that small pools with a water surface area of ​​less than 50 m² be blocked if the distances between them cannot be maintained. Even in whirlpools you sit too close together.

"It would be possible, however, to provide a lifeguard who only lets a few children or bathers into the pool," suggests Zinn. "Lanes can be drawn in the swimmer area." Another consideration: organize swimming classes in the morning and let in the fun-goers in the afternoon.

Will there be swimming lessons again?

In very few cases, private swimming lessons are taking place again. However, it will probably take at least autumn until all school children learn to swim again. This can have negative effects on the health of children, because there were major bottlenecks here even before the corona crisis:

According to the German Lifesaving Society, up to 25 percent of all elementary schools no longer offered swimming lessons at all in 2019 because there was no swimming pool available to them. If the lessons are made difficult by the hygiene and distance rules or can only be held in small groups, this will make this situation even worse.

What are the social consequences of the baths being closed?

The President of the German Swimming Teachers Association, Alexander Gallitz, fears an increasing number of bathing accidents in rivers, lakes and by the sea after months of closing all swimming pools this summer - because more people are using natural waters and are not as proficient in swimming.

Dr. Georg-Christian Zinn recalls the educational mandate of swimming pools: "We must not forget how important bathing, swimming and relaxation are for people's health," says the specialist in pediatrics, hygiene and environmental medicine at the Bioscentia Center for Hygiene and Infection Prevention in Ingelheim.

"Children have to learn to swim, adults should be able to crawl again and keep fit with water aerobics. In addition, baths have been an important part of our culture and society - since the Romans."