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COVID-19 Impact on Georgia Latest Articles

July 23, 2020

Is It Safe to Go to the Beach Right Now?

Is It Safe to Go to the Beach Right Now?

Updated on June 30, 2020 at 4:30pm EST.

As temperatures rise, you may be itching to head to the beach, smell the salty air and sink your toes into the sand—especially after being cooped up inside for the past few months. But is it safe?

Spending time at the shore can be a relatively low-risk way to pass the time. Being outdoors is always preferable to spending time in indoor spaces with other people.  Airflow is better outside, enabling particles of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus that causes COVID-19—to disperse more effectively.

But as COVID-19 cases rise in many parts of the country, it’s crucial to get updates on any outbreaks from your state and local authorities. It’s also important to continue practicing social distancing and taking other precautionary measures to reduce your risk of exposure to the infection.

Here’s how to plan a safe trip to the shore this summer even as beaches become more crowded:

Plan ahead
Before you pack your bag, make sure you’ve done your homework. Visit the websites of state and local authorities for information about openings, closings and specific regulations that could affect your plans.

While most beaches are open these days, double check opening and closing times in advance, as they may have changed since your last trip.

Some beaches may also be operating at reduced capacity. It’s a good idea to consider timing your trip for when the beach may be less crowded—typically early in the morning or later in the afternoon. One reason to get an early start: Some beaches may close their gates for the day once capacity is reached.

Some towns have restrictions on what activities are allowed at the beach, including games and sports. Certain beaches may also impose limitations on the type of gear you can bring with you. Keep in mind, protocols in place may change quickly as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in many parts of the country. As the pandemic evolves, officials may re-introduce more stringent rules—or close beaches entirely.

If a beach near you is open, you should anticipate that your visit will look and feel differently than it has in the past—before the pandemic.

Beaches in Connecticut, for example, have been requiring that blankets be kept at least 15 feet away from each other. Several southern states have used drones equipped with cameras and loudspeakers to monitor beachgoers and issue reminders about social distancing. Some New Jersey shore towns have been dispatching “social distancing ambassadors” to make sure that people are keeping at least 6 feet of distance between them.

Lastly, you’ll want to take a gut check of your health. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive for the illness, are awaiting test results or if you’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days, stay home for your sake and for those around you.

Consider your tolerance for risk, too. The more widespread COVID-19 is in the place you live—or the shore area you’re planning to visit—the higher the risk of getting sick if you spend time in public places. You’ll want to be particularly conscientious if you or people you live with are older or have underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, lung disease or immune issues that could make getting COVID-19 particularly dangerous.

Be prepared
While verifying the restrictions at the beach you’re visiting, you may discover that food stands won’t be open. Even if they are, it’s wise to avoid these attractions if they have long lines and crowds. Consider bringing your own food and drinks in a cooler.

You may also want to avoid public restrooms. You can help limit your bathroom breaks by reminding everyone in your group, especially little ones, to go before you leave. Some beaches have installed portable hand-washing stations, which provide visitors an opportunity to wash up without going indoors.

If you haven’t already done so, discuss and practice social distancing habits with any kids traveling with you. It’s often hard for little beachgoers to resist checking out neighboring groups’ sandcastles, but now is the time to keep everyone in your party close at hand.

Pack some extra gear
Aside from basics like towels, blankets and toys, it’s also a good idea to bring your own chairs, umbrellas and other gear—even if the beach you’re visiting rents these items.

Beach staff can only do so much when it comes to disinfecting gear that is touched frequently throughout the day. If you must use shared furniture—or need to visit the restroom—bring disinfectant wipes to clean commonly-used surfaces.

If you’ll be picnicking, don’t forget to back a few extra water bottles, paper towels, plates, utensils, plus a garbage bag so you can avoid multiple walks to the trash can. Bring hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in case soap and water aren’t available for handwashing.

If there is water fountain at the beach you’re visiting, it may not be available for public use during the pandemic. If you do find one available, be mindful about touching it with your hands or mouth. If you can, seek out no-touch fountains. If those aren’t available, look for the type that allow you to fill a water bottle by pushing a button with your elbow or hip.

Lastly, even though COVID-19 may be top of mind, don’t forget sun protection: hats, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. A first aid kit is also handy so you can manage small scrapes without having to interact with lifeguards or rescue workers.

Cover up (your face)
Tan lines across your cheeks may be unseemly, but masks are imperative, especially at a crowded beach. So, mask up after putting your sunscreen on.

“Wearing a cloth face covering is crucial when social distancing is difficult,” says Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  Healthy Swimming Program. Don’t wear cloth masks in the water, however, because when they get wet, they may become less effective and difficult to breathe through.

Wear your mask when you’re on the sand, stash it in a dry place when you hit the water and then put it back on as soon as you return to your blanket and towel off. Just in case, Hlavsa advises bringing a second mask in case the first one gets wet.

Keep your distance
Gone are the days when a stranger’s blanket can be mere inches from you; keeping 6 feet away from others is the new norm. “Maintain social (or physical) distancing from people you don’t live with, both in and out of the water,” Hlavsa says. That may necessitate trekking a little further through the parking lot to enter through a less-crowded gate or hiking down the beach to find a more secluded spot.

The water itself is unlikely to pose a danger, since concentrations of the virus would become diluted. “At this time, the risk for becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 through the water in oceans, lakes and other natural bodies of water—for example, when swimming, surfing, and kayaking—is thought to be low,” Hlavsa says.

To be on the safe side, you’ll still want to avoid wading, splashing or swimming in the water near anyone outside of your family, since transmission of SARS-CoV-2 remains a possibility if people are talking, coughing or spitting within 6 feet of others.

One common congestion spot to avoid is the water in front of lifeguard stands where people are able to wade farther out into the ocean. If there is a lifeguard on duty and many people in the water, consider delaying your swim until it’s less crowded or cool off by putting just your feet in farther away. Remember, it’s not just about you. Water rescues could potentially expose lifeguards or other swimmers to SARS-CoV-2.

One more note about lifeguards: They have their hands full focusing on saving lives without having to enforce face coverings and social distancing. Do your part and give them the space and support they need to do their jobs.

Know when to pack up
After all the beach prep, it can be difficult to head home before you’re ready. But overcrowding could affect your plans.

“If the public place you swim, play or relax in around the water is too crowded, leave,” Hlavsa says.

Once you’re home, take a little extra time to unpack and clean carefully:

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Take off your clothes and toss them in laundry, along with any towels, beach bags and face coverings you brought, washing them in the warmest appropriate setting and drying them completely.
  • Clean and disinfect gear and toys with hard surfaces, such as buckets, shovels and beach chairs. Swab down small frequently touched items like keys and phones with disinfectant wipes.

Take some notes
Jot down the details of your trip—just in case you later get sick and need to share key information with contact tracers, Hlavsa suggests. That includes where and when you went to the beach, who traveled with you and who you had contact with once you arrived, what activities you engaged in and whether or not you got into the water.

Gearing up for a beach outing this summer will involve some extra thought and effort, but these safety measures will help protect you and others.

Medically reviewed in June 2020.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Personal and Social Activities.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Visiting Parks and Recreational Facilities.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Considerations for Public Beaches.”
Lauren Sloss. “The Beach Is Open. Should I Go?” The New York Times. May 26, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness.”
Scottie Andrew. “Before you go to the pool, beach or lake this summer, read this.” CNN. May 22, 2020.
A. Pawlowski. “No sunbathing or sand castles? What to know before you go to the beach.” Today. May 19, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 and Water.”
Dr. Nancy A. Anoruo. “What experts say about coronavirus in water -- and what it means for beach season.” ABC News. April 20, 2020.

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