Craig Lord Highlights Coronavirus Risks Of Open Water Swimming

Courtesy of Craig Lord, Swimming World Magazine.

Professor Kimberly Prather, an Atmospheric Chemist, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry, and a Distinguished Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at University of California San Diego, gave stern warning to ocean-goers from open water swimmers and surfers to fisherman and sailors [see article here].

The professor says, “I wouldn’t go in the water if you paid me $1 million right now. [The coronavirus] could [kill you] if you go out there and get in the wrong air,” she explained why the beach is one of the most dangerous places to be with the novel coronavirus. Prather fears that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could enter coastal waters in similar ways and transfer back into the air along the coast.

In her research, Dr. Prather discovered that the crash of big waves along the California coastline leads to ocean sprays that spread particulate and microscopic pathogens into the air. The Los Angeles Times reported, “She believes that this new coronavirus is light enough to float through the air much farther than we think. The six-feet physical distancing rule, she said, doesn’t apply at the beach, where coastal winds can get quite strong and send viral particles soaring.”

Now the globally influential Swimming World Magazine Editor-in-Chief Craig Lord penned this chilling report, Potential Risks Of COVID-19 For Open Water Swimmers Highlighted By UNC Research Paper.

He opens the article with the following statement, “A 2009 research paper from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published by Science Direct provides insight to the potential risks of open water swimming and reasons for the sport’s authorities wishing to ensure that athletes return to safe waters when the coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown draws to an end to seek expert guidance.

The research includes observations in “natural environmental waters”, while the study’s conclusions highlight potential risks of COVID-19 for open water swimmers and raise questions for the sport in general.”

Read on here.

Lord goes further. He highlights that these risks have been known since 2008 [see here related to previous strains of the coronavirus].

What Professor Prather found was previously known by the University of North Carolina researchers Lisa Casanova, William Rutala and David Weber who wrote, “It has been established with other human pathogens that formation of droplets and aerosols from water contaminated with microorganisms can serve as a vehicle for transmission.”

Lord points out that scientists and researchers have thought about and known about viral survival in open water at least back to the 1970s.

Every open water swimmer knows about the impact of urban runoff on water quality after a rain,” says Steven Munatones. “The water turns murky and brown; there is often an ugly foam, patches of filthy water, and the water can smell quite fecal to say the least. Those are the times to avoid the water.”

But now researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of North Carolina are specifically describing the risk of the coronavirus in the world’s oceans and waterways. “That is pretty scary,” admitted Munatones. “To think that open water swimmers, surfers, fishermen, sailors, windsurfers, divers, SUP paddlers, kayakers, beach runners, and all kinds of beach-goers can catch, swim into or breathe in the novel coronavirus. To think that most of the world’s population drinks water from natural bodies of water – that are non-filtered or treated with chemicals – then these scientists are ringing a very loud alarm.

When an influencer like Craig Lord calls for official guidance on the risks of coronavirus for swimmers in open water, the open water swimming community is literally entering new waters.

If the scientists are correct and governing bodies like FINA or national governing bodies follow Craig’s logic, then the elimination of the sport of open water swimming could be a possibility.

But their warnings are even more worrisome.

More than 600 million people (~10% of the world’s population) live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level with an estimated 2.4 billion people (~40% of the world’s population) living within 100 km of a coast including nearly 40% of all Americans who live near a coast. Their predictions are a chilling threat to the lives of all who work or recreate in or near every ocean, sea, river, dam, and lake around the world.

Quite a scary thought.

On the other hand, if this possibility of previous strains of the coronavirus and the current novel coronavirus are true, then the world’s medical community should have treated its victims who would have come from the open water swimming, surfing, diving, fishing, yachting/boating, windsurfing, SUP paddling, kayaking worlds. Those people have spent billions, trillions of collective hours in, around and near the water. But I have not heard of anyone in those communities who have been stricken by the previous or novel coronavirus. Even in the case of Sarah Ferguson [read here], she appears not to claim she caught COVID-19 because of her time in, around or near the open water.

Furthermore, open water swimmers liked Michelle Evans-Chase, PhD, who teaches research methods to graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, make valid points about the claims sited by the research. “For example, in the study parameters, they introduced 5ml of virus solution to 45ml of water. That is over 11%. The water was kept unagitated throughout the test and they purified the water in advance so no existing microorganisms could impact the virus. Also, I could not find any reference to parts per million required to infect someone.”

Shelley Taylor-Smith, the former Honorary Secretary of FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee from 2000 to 2009 and the 7-time world professional marathon swimming champion, commented, “If the researchers are correct, then the effects are far more reaching than FINA and the discipline of open water swimming. Lets not forget the other FINA discipline of High Diving as the International Olympic Committee would also have to consider the Olympic sports of surfing, kayaking, rowing, triathlon, sailing and yachting.”

Ned Denison and I will try to interview experts on this field, ideally the researchers noted above, on the WOWSA Live interview series. But, honestly speaking, I seriously doubt anyone is going to catch the coronavirus while out in the ocean – or walking on the beach – because the virus was aerosolized in crashing surf. For such a thing to occur, all kinds of assumptions are made. Yet, people still go to the supermarket and pharmacies or work in air conditioned or heated closed environments. Seems quite far-fetched to me, but time will tell us all if these commentators and scientists are correct.”

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