The beaches remain closed in an attempt to keep congregating people from spreading the coronavirus, but how likely could the virus be contracted if someone went in the water?
Kim Prather, an atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is worried surfers huddled in a tightly packed lineup could be at risk.
Prather, an expert on how tiny microorganisms get lofted into the air hitchhiking on aerosols, told The Voice of San Diego: “All the rules for six-foot social distancing when you’re at the beach do not apply.”
She warned the COVID-19 virus could bind to microscopic aerosol particles which could be transmitted by groups of people in close proximity in the water.
Prather thinks viruses can remain alive in saltwater for days, if not months.
Dish soap kills the virus the same way it breaks down fat baked into a frying pan, yet the same lipid envelope surrounding the virus structure makes it resistant in saltwater. The fatty envelope encasing coronaviruses could float near the ocean surface where waves can whip particles into the air according to Dr. Prather.
Many known viruses have been swept up into the air from sea spray. The viruses tend to hitch rides on smaller, lighter, organic particles suspended in air and gas, meaning they can stay aloft in the atmosphere longer.
Some evidence shows viruses can remain viable after getting caught in weather currents dispersing microbes across very distant oceans.
The truth is only a rudimentary knowledge exists of infection spread beyond direct contact with contaminated surfaces or through droplets from sneezes and coughs within close proximity to an infected person.
Scientists worldwide are on a fast track to unlock the virus characteristics, yet so far, neither the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor local health agencies have warned that the virus can be spread by ocean spray or coastal breezes.
Jacksonville University’s Dr. Anthony Ouellette, professor of biology and chemistry, sees no need for concern yet.
Quellette says he’s wary the virus has been detected in sewage, but proper wastewater treatment facilities kill the vast majority of pathogens.
For now, there is little concern until the beach ban is lifted. Until then, scientists have more time to study the novel virus risks before the beaches are open again.