Can the virus that causes COVID-19 spread to people through the water in lakes, oceans, or rivers?
CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in lakes, oceans, rivers, or other natural bodies of water.
The virus mainly spreads when respiratory droplets from infected people land in the mouths or noses of others or possibly when inhaled into the lungs by others. If a public beach or other swim area in a natural body of water is open, it is important for all visitors and staff to take steps to slow the spread of the virus:
- Stay home if you are infected or might be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Stay at least 6 feet apart (in and out of the water) from people you don’t live with.
- Wear cloth masks when not in water.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue (or use the inside of your elbow), throw used tissues in the trash, and wash hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available.
See Considerations for Public Beaches for more information.
RNA of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater, which can come from combined sewer overflows (rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater) and other (such as, leaking septic tanks or animal waste from farms nearby) and enter swim areas. While data are limited, there is little evidence of infectious virus in wastewater. Plus, CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus being spread by swallowing or coming in contact with water contaminated by feces (poop) from an infected person.
At lakes, oceans, and rivers with routine water quality monitoring programs, staff look for changes in fecal (poop) contamination of the water. Water quality advisories and beach closures alert the public to avoid getting in or on the water because of increased fecal contamination. Learn more about healthy swimming in natural bodies of water and access water quality information by state.
See also: Spread and transmission