Swimming has always been at the top of my fun list. During the pandemic, this exercise became a lifesaver. It’s a fact that swimming can improve your mood. It’s even known for decreasing anxiety and depression. For me, it’s just been a good way to stay active, clear my head and stretch tight muscles. But is it a safe way to exercise during COVID? Nothing is 100 percent safe in today’s world, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that there is no evidence that COVID can be spread through recreational water. Swimming World has even reported some case studies that back up the theory that swimming pools are not a good host for the coronavirus. Disinfectants used to clean the water in local pools, including chlorine and bromine, should kill any virus. If you plan to go swimming, you just need to follow the same advice we are already receiving when it comes to physical distancing.
Local pools do have a lot of rules, such as taking people’s temperature and asking a series of COVID questions at the door, and requiring masking and physical distancing. “I think our pool has been the shining light in a lot of people’s lives during COVID,” says Seth Arellano, general manager at The Alaska Club South. “We’ve continued to attract Alaskans of all ages for lap swim, swimming lessons, water aerobics and open swim. It’s one of the only things my 11-year-old son has not seen get cancelled. He’s getting valuable exercise and doesn’t even realize it.”
Leader in COVID Protocols
It turns out that Central Area swimming in Anchorage has been somewhat of a leader in COVID safe protocols for swimming. Over the last few months, high school swimmers have managed to hold 23 swim meets, regionals, and a state meet that allowed anywhere from 40 to 120 athletes to compete. Local swim organizers came up with protocols and managed to get the swimming community to agree to follow all mandates. While a few swimmers did get COVID during the swim season, they were identified and quarantined without one documented case of close contact transmission within the swim teams.
“Several swim groups across the country have contacted us to learn what we did and how we were able to get kids swimming safely,” says Jodi McLaughlin. As the meet director for Northern Lights Swim Club and a board member of Alaska Swimming, McLaughlin says their motivation was just to get kids swimming, but they learned a lot along the way. She and her husband even engineered plexiglass shields that were installed in the Service High pool to keep swimmers from breathing on each other. “The pool environment is not friendly to this airborne virus,” says McLaughlin. “Combine that with a naturally distanced, sanitary sport, a strong commitment to mitigation measures and the support of our local leaders to stay open, we have been able to build the case proving swimming can continue safely over the course of more than 35 meets since July.”
Water-based exercise is the 4th most popular sports activity in the U.S. Swimming is a good way to get regular, aerobic physical activity. You also can exercise longer in water than on land without increased effort or joint or muscle pain. Swimming is a great choice for people who have arthritis, women who are pregnant or anyone who is coming back from a sports injury or surgery. Being in the water lessens the impact on joints and muscles, yet still offers a good workout. Swimming also has shown to improve the bone health of post-menopausal women.
“For me, swimming has just been a great way to stay positive and feel that endorphin rush during the dark winter months,” says Tracy Roesch Williams. She swam competitively in high school, but has only dabbled in swimming since – until COVID hit. Now, swimming a mile’s worth of laps a few times a week has become an essential part of her exercise routine. “Everyone has to find their own comfort level, but I feel like swimming has been safe.”
Getting into swimming is fairly easy. All you need is a swimsuit that is comfortable, a swimming cap, goggles and a water bottle. A pair of underwater headphones, such as Swimbuds or a FINIS MP3 player are optional, but many swimmers say they make the swim experience more fun.
Don’t swim if you have any open cuts or wounds, or if you have diarrhea. It’s a good idea to shower before you swim, and after you get out. Avoid swallowing the water and make sure you dry your ears thoroughly after swimming. If you’re worried about ear infections, wear earplugs.
Where to Go
There are several pool locations in the Anchorage area. They include pools at Dimond, West and Bartlett High Schools. The YMCA has a pool with lap lanes and swim instruction, as do The Alaska Club South and The Alaska Club East. There are pools at Alaska Pacific University (APU’s) Moseley Sports Center and at the UAA Sports Arena that are normally open to the public (but a recent check showed that they were closed or only open to students and faculty so call before you go). There also is a pool at The Alaska Club Eagle River and at Chugiak High School. In the Valley, you’ll find pools at Palmer High School and at The Alaska Club Wasilla.
How to Stay Safe
The trick to swimming safely during the pandemic is to still maintain distance from others. That means wear a facemask to and from the pool and only take your mask off while swimming. Don’t swim with more than two people per lane and try to go when crowds are limited. That might mean getting up early in the morning or going for a swim midday while others are working. Don’t’ share personal items such as towels, goggles, face masks, pool noodles or kickboards. Many of the public pools are not currently allowing you to use their locker rooms during COVID, so show up with your suit on, bring your own towel and be prepared to just dry off and head home to shower. All local facilities are enforcing pandemic rules, such as screening at the entrance and limiting the number of people allowed inside. Call ahead to make sure you understand the COVID rules before you go.
Even though it’s not easy to find ventilated places to swim in Alaska in the winter, I personally have felt that the benefits of swimming have far outweighed the risks. Try to remain flexible, and if you show up to a pool that is too crowded, just resolve to come back another time. Set small goals, like just swimming a ¼ mile at first, then build up your endurance. Most importantly – have fun!