As summer draws to a close, normally folks would be planning their last little family trips before kids head back to school. Thanks to the coronavirus, those activities are looking a little different, and many families are sticking closer to home with trips to the lake instead of a crowded beach. But what’s the risk of catching COVID-19 while having one last (or only) lake outing this summer? Can the coronavirus live on lakes?
Immunologist Dr. Robert Quigley tells Romper in an email interview, “Although lakes and other large bodies of water are not treated with chlorine and other chemicals to kill germs — as is the case with pools and hot tubs — there is no scientific evidence that the coronavirus can exist and spread through water.”
Quigley says that the virus is thought to mainly be spread by “person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets.” That means talking, coughing, and sneezing. “Furthermore, even if the virus were able to exist in/on large bodies of water, the chance of contamination would be negligible as the amount and motion of the water would quickly dilute the virus,” he says.
However, and this is a huge important point, even though you can’t necessarily catch it while you’re out in the lake water and are submerged, you do have to get out of the lake at some point — and this is where it gets trickier. “Picnic tables and chairs are frequently and publicly used surfaces. With that said, and knowing that frequently touched/used surfaces are likely to be contaminated with the novel virus, it can live on picnic tables and chairs,” Quigley says. “The virus has been cultured from wood, plastic, and fiberglass surfaces, all of which are used in the construction of picnic tables.”
If you do plan on using the park after going for a dip, Quigley says to be sure to disinfect all surfaces before using them and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth while cleaning. “Immediately after disinfecting surfaces, be sure to wash your hands with warm soap and water thoroughly. If soap and water are not readily available, be sure to use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol,” he adds. “These surfaces should also be wiped down after eating and used as an additional precautionary measure and courtesy to others.”
As far as enjoying that wonderful lake breeze, that may not end well either. Epidemiologist Dr. Charlalynn Harris tells Romper, “The virus can live for varied periods of time on surfaces and droplet spray from sneezing or coughs not covered from an infected person can travel some short distances as well.”
"A small breeze could aid in moving droplets (short distances) from an infected individual,” she says. “If someone sneezes or coughs (uncovered) and an individual is close enough in proximity to that event without a mask, this could create an adverse event where someone could potentially become infected. This is why distancing far enough from others and masking are both highly important."
But Quigley understands "pandemic fatigue," and says that everyone is seeing an increase in the number of people traveling to places with public space and water access. If you are going to a lake or even a beach, there are precautions you can take, like keeping six feet away from others, wearing a mask when you're not in the water, minimizing interactions with people outside of your group, covering coughs and sneezes, using hand sanitizer frequently, and avoiding crowded spaces. “If you cannot maintain a six feet social distance, you should not go,” he says.
And for the folks who thought that the virus would be killed because of the heat from summer and sunshine, sorry to say, that’s wrong. “Sunlight or exposing yourself to extreme temperatures does not kill or mitigate the spread of the virus,” according to Quigley. “This can be further backed by the recent surge in cases we’ve seen throughout the U.S. during the hottest months of the year (not to mention the spread of the virus in temperate climates like those seen in southeast Asia).
“Travel of any kind during the pandemic will increase your chances of not only getting COVID-19, but also spreading the highly contagious disease and putting others at risk," Quigley adds. "If you do choose to travel or partake in a getaway during this time, there are many precautions and considerations you should take to ensure the safety of yourself and others.”
Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director for International SOS, a leading medical and security services company