Many health clubs have pools, hot tubs, or saunas. Learn how to keep members as safe as possible while using those facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak has fitness and sports facilities around the world taking additional measures above and beyond standard protocol to ensure their facilities are safe and clean. Industry experts Kilian Fisher M.IoD, Dip.M, FCIMSPA, DMS and Paul Hackett MSc, CMIOSH, PIEMA, FCIMSPA, MISPE, MIIRSM shared their insights on pool, sauna, and steam room safety measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Fisher is IHRSA’s International Public Policy advisor and has extensive experience operating pools and spas in the U.K. and Ireland. He also led the development of National Guidelines and Training in both the U.K. and Ireland and formerly chair of IHRSA Board Standards Committee. Hackett is a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and OSHCR Registered Consultant.
These guidelines should be read alongside the Key Considerations and Risk Assessment Tools produced by a global experts group led by IHRSA. View also the webinar featuring a top advisor from the World Health Organization discussing these tools to help keep your club open/reopen and show your local health authorities that your club is safe.
A well-run, clean swimming pool with appropriately treated water using chlorine at internationally accepted levels should provide adequate disinfection to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.
Operators should ensure chlorine levels in pools and spas are kept between 1-3mg/l with the pH between 6.8-7.4. Spa pools that use bromine need to maintain their water at 4-6mg/l bromine or 3-5mg/l chlorine. Routine tests for microbiological quality should also be undertaken in line with national guidelines.
Given that the virus is a new one, experts cannot say with absolute certainty that it will be safe. However, most authorities believe that pool and spa waters that are adequately disinfected should not spread the disease. A bigger risk will be the face-to-face interaction between individual users of the pools and spas.
Continue following all the regular advice about not shaking hands and coughing/sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it immediately.
Operators will need to maintain diligent hygiene standards in changing areas, toilets, and showers. Operators need to ensure pool water standards are at their best by regular water testing and taking actions if they are not in acceptable norms.
Here are some other best practices when it comes to pool safety:
- Swimmers and spa users who feel unwell should not use public facilities and under no circumstances spit or blow their noses in the water.
- Swimmers and spa users should wash their hands with soap and water often. Do this for at least 20 seconds.
- Everyone should wash their hands when entering the facility. Use hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available. Health authorities recommend solutions with 60% alcohol or more.
- Everyone should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze.
- Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterward.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
It is important to remember that users can introduce a variety of germs into pools and spas by not abiding by a thorough pre-swim/treatments/spa regime. Personal care products like perfumes, hair sprays, creams, etc. can introduce “bad” chemicals into swimming and spa pools and hot tubs, which can cause adverse effects on pool treatment chemicals and systems.
“Ever since my start in the industry as a swimming teacher and coach, I have always advocated for all customers (adults and children) to wear flip flops from changing rooms to poolside to avoid picking up potential infections including common fungal infections such as veruccae,” says Fisher.
In some European countries and many clubs, it is normal and often mandatory to shower before using the facilities, and some require a swimming cap.
Fisher points out that “if pre-swim/spa showering were the norm, swimming and spa pools and hot tubs water would be cleaner, allow for more effective disinfection, and be more pleasant to use.”
Steam Room and Sauna Safety
Saunas operate at higher temperatures (70-100°C or 158-212°F) and have porous wood furniture that could make it difficult for any virus to survive for long. It is recommended that people do not go in them if they are feeling ill in any way and should not, for example, “sweat out a cold.” Normal cleaning with moderately degreasing cleaning agent (mild soap) should be suitable.
Steam rooms are normally a hard plastic or ceramic surface and operate at substantially lower temperatures 40°C or 104°F or so with 100% humidity. The hard surface, temperature, and humid conditions means the virus may be more likely to survive. Additional deep cleansing would be sensible between users, always allowing sufficient time for the unit to cool for it to be safe for the cleaning operative to work in.
For more information on coronavirus, visit IHRSA’s Coronavirus Resources for Health Clubs.
Kilian Fisher, IHRSA’s International Public Policy advisor, and Paul Hackett, a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and OSHCR Registered Consultant, contributed to this article.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is a global community of health and fitness professionals committed to building their businesses and improving their communities’ health and well-being. The mission of IHRSA is to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry, and to provide its members with the benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members (health clubs and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and industry suppliers) are dedicated to make the world healthier through regular exercise. For more information visit www.ihrsa.org.