Safe Summer Swimming
Guest Editorial Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, Iowa Environmental Council Water Program Director
Memorial Day is over, and yet it’s hard to believe that it’s already June! It’s definitely feeling like summer. Summer is my favorite season, because I get to spend time with my family in the glacial lakes of northern Iowa. Getting out on the water is my favorite thing to do, and the lake is my favorite place to be. Like everything else right now, however, this summer is shaping up to be quite different from past seasons.
Coming to the lake every summer growing up, my family drilled me on how to be safe in and on the water. This meant wearing a life jacket, becoming a strong swimmer, learning how to safely drive boats, and paying close attention to the wind and weather. As we shift to the summer recreation season, a question that has come up several times is whether swimming is safe during the pandemic. The answer appears to be yes, with a few caveats.
COVID-19 and safe swimming
Although scientists and experts are still trying to gather and analyze information about the novel coronavirus, current information suggests that the virus does not persist long in water. Unlike bacteria, which can survive in water for some time, viruses need a host to survive.
While this is good news for summer swimming enthusiasts like me, folks enjoying the outdoors this summer should still take pandemic-related precautions. The virus spreads from person to person through the air, so it important to maintain proper distance (at least 6 feet) from anyone who doesn’t currently live with you. This distance is necessary in the water and on the beach. Wear a mask and avoid touching surfaces and your face when not swimming to avoid the risk of spread and protect yourself and others.
It is important to take precautions when swimming and boating, but outdoor recreation can also be an important tool for coping with losing access to other public spaces. I have found a lot of peace and enjoyment from getting out in the kayak after a long day of video calls. Evidence also suggests that outdoor spaces are safer than indoor spaces when considering community spread.
Iowans deserve clean, safe waterways, and while COVID-19 doesn’t seem to persist long in water, contaminants like bacteria and cyanotoxins do. We will continue to bring you the most up-to-date information on beach advisories and water quality news across the state so that you can make informed choices about when and where to swim. We are all thinking about health and safety more than ever, and that definitely includes our environment.
Please use your best judgment, and stay safe out there!