This Doctor's Simple Trick Can Help You Stay Safe at the Beach

Here’s how you can have fun at the beach while staying safe in the age of coronavirus.

Some authorities in coastal regions, like Texas and California, have closed beaches due to current COVID-19 surges. But the truth is, the beach itself does not pose a risk of coronavirus transmission. The problem presents when beachgoers reject social distancing and mask-wearing guidance, flocking to the summer sand in unsafe numbers. However, wearing a mask can be a challenge for those looking to take a dip in the ocean. And while Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, says you should wear a mask at the beach, he knows it's not reasonable to swim with your face covered. So, what can you do to stay safe from coronavirus at the beach? The doctor's advice comes down to this simple trick from your childhood: Use the buddy system.

As Russo points out, the ocean is large enough so that you should be able to social distance safely in the water. But since you can't wear a mask while you swim, you should buddy up with someone who's staying on shore. The system is easy: One person goes for a swim, the other keeps their mask at the ready for when they get out of the ocean.

Russo notes you'll want to avoid tossing your mask into the sand to keep it clean, but you should make sure it's accessible so that your buddy can easily hand it to you (by the strings, of course). Then, you do the same to let your buddy have a swim. This works especially well for couples, family members, or other people in one household unit since they've already been exposed to one another.

Kids wearing face masks on the beach to stay safe

The important takeaway here is staying masked up around other people, even if it means using this kind of strategic workaround to make it happen. That's because the coronavirus is generally transmitted directly between people, via respiratory droplets.

In fact, Russo says, the risk of becoming infected through inanimate objects is very low—for instance, while paying a beach parking meter or picking up a volleyball someone else may have touched. (Though you should always be mindful of washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently regardless.) "Acquisition of infection through touching inanimate objects is relatively low risk and hand hygiene cleans that up, if there's any question," Russo says.

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So, if you keep your distance, use the buddy system, and consistently disinfect your hands, you'll be able to stay safe at the beach while getting in some sun this summer. And for mistakes you should avoid during your future swim sessions, check out This One Thing Puts You at Risk for COVID-19 at the Pool, Doctor Says.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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