With summer around the corner, there are lots of questions on how to take advantage of the long, warm days safely.

Amir Mohareb, MD, of the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, gives tips on how to enjoy summertime fun while reducing your risk for COVID-19.

Q: Is swimming (in a pool or at the beach) safe?

A: There are no medical data on the risk of COVID-19 in public pools and beaches. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that public aquatic venues consult with local health departments on how to mitigate risk of COVID-19 spread this summer.

You can reduce your risk by engaging in these behaviors: 

  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette (coughing or sneezing into your elbow)
  • Wear cloth face coverings, especially when physical distancing is difficult
  • Stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days
  • Carry adequate supplies of soap, water and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Limit exposure to large crowds as much as possible

Q: If going to the beach, is wearing a face mask or using a beach tent recommended?

A: The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering, especially in cases where physical distancing is difficult.

Being in a wide open, well-lit and well-ventilated space outside with a low density of other people is probably low risk of transmission. However, beaches frequently get crowded and the risk of acquiring COVID-19 rises as more people relax physical-distancing interventions.

Q: What types of sports are safest to participate in? 

A: The way sports are played and the way equipment is shared can influence the spread of COVID-19 among players. Sports that require frequent closeness between players may make it more difficult to maintain physical distancing, compared to sports where players are not close to each other. 

In these cases, players and coaches can focus on individual skills-building in order to minimize the time players spend in full contact with others. It is also possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. Minimize equipment sharing, and clean and disinfect shared equipment between use to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

During times when players are not actively participating in practice or competition, attention should be given to maintaining physical distancing by increasing space between players on the sideline, dugout or bench. Additionally, coaches can encourage athletes to use downtime for individual skill-building work or on cardiovascular conditioning, rather than staying clustered together.

The CDC provides more specific recommendations for youth sports.

Q: How likely is it that we are opening back up too early and will need to quarantine again?

A: There are many uncertainties regarding the future of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many experts believe that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the outbreak will only end when enough of the population is immune so that there is no longer widespread transmission of the virus. It is speculated that immunity can result from direct infection or vaccination, which is not yet available.

Since this virus has the potential to remain with us for several more years, it is possible that the public will have to alternate between cycles of restrictive and relaxed physical distancing. This may be especially likely at the start of the next influenza season (October-April) when there will be more cases of respiratory illness in the community.

This makes it all the more important to practice hand hygiene and physical distancing as much as possible, even as activities begin to open back up again.