This article is the first in a series about safe dive businesses operations in the context of COVID-19.
As eager divers look forward to getting back in the water, dive operators want to know how to ensure everyone’s safety. The following Q&As have been compiled from questions sent to DAN by divers, dive professionals and dive business owners and are intended to help everyone get ready for a safe return to the water.
Is COVID-19 transmissible through water? If so, does the risk vary based on type of water, i.e. swimming pools, open fresh/saltwater and rinse tanks? Will adding a disinfectant to the water be sufficient to inactivate the virus? What about adding regular hand soap to the rinse tank water?
Currently it is not known whether the new coronavirus can be transmitted in a rinse tank with communal equipment, however studies on other coronaviruses have shown that they survive well in surface water such as lakes and rivers. With this research in mind it would be prudent to assume that the virus will survive in a rinse tank and, although diluted, could remain infectious. According to the CDC the virus would be inactivated in a properly treated swimming pool, however rinsing equipment in a swimming pool is not an acceptable method of disinfection.
A disinfectant solution must be used according to the manufacturer's directions, and these usually include specific dilution requirements and a statement instructing the user to thoroughly rinse the disinfected item and allow it to dry. Therefore, a disinfectant solution should be mixed and used separately from the freshwater rinse tank. Best practice in this case would be to have divers disinfect equipment before rinsing to avoid contamination of the rinse water. Hand soap is not a viable option for disinfecting. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of disinfectants that will kill the virus called “List N"; a disinfectant should be chosen from this list or from among registered disinfectants from other local governing bodies.
How should I manage disinfection operations at my dive shop?
Disinfection operations should be added to existing standard operating procedures. These procedures should follow local, state and federal guidelines on disinfection, and staff should be trained thoroughly in disinfection protocols. Identify high-touch surfaces in your operation, and ensure these are disinfected regularly. These include but are not limited to bathrooms, countertops, door handles and other surfaces staff and guests may touch often.
When using any disinfectant, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Follow this with a thorough rinse in fresh water, and allow the equipment to dry completely before use. For more information about choosing a disinfectant, go to Disinfection of Scuba Equipment and COVID-19.
How can I protect my staff from COVID-19? How can I ensure that my customers will not get COVID-19 from my facility?
For employees, the general COVID-19 safety recommendations, as published by the WHO and CDC, apply. The use of protective face masks, regular hand hygiene, and gloves (with proper training) can considered when staff members are in direct contact with clients. Reducing the number of people in certain areas or designating areas for staff members only may also be useful. Compressors, equipment maintenance areas, rental equipment areas, offices and classrooms could be made temporarily off limits to customers (if they’re not already) to limit virus transmission. Encourage clients to practice social distancing (use proper signage), and make sure they disinfect their equipment after every use.
While you cannot fully guarantee the virus won’t be spread at your facility, you can certainly reduce the risk by enacting preventive measures, which include but are not limited to creating and enforcing strict disinfection procedures, preventing clients from gathering or sitting too close to each other, and most importantly, ensuring clients complete your health screening check before allowing them to attend a training session or dive. Clients with signs or symptoms should not be allowed to participate in any diving or related activities. Be sure to clearly post all disinfection policies to ensure that clients are aware before entering your business.
Can rental equipment still be rented and used?
You can continue to rent equipment, but you should take additional care, including but not limited to the following:
- Restrict access to the rental area: Bring the rented equipment out to the client.
- Disinfect returned rental equipment thoroughly according to directions on the selected disinfectant. This should include second stage regulators, BCDs, wetsuits, snorkels and masks. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water and allow to dry before renting them out again.
- Maintain a separate area for returned rental equipment to avoid contamination of equipment that has already been disinfected.
- Instruct clients not to touch the cylinder valve outlet or regulator inlet when assembling and disassembling their scuba unit. Alternatively, consider providing divers with a pre-assembled rental set and instruct them to not disassemble the set after the dive. As long as your staff work with clean hands or gloves, this will prevent contamination of the cylinder valve outlet and first stage regulator inlet.
- Instruct staff that handle used rental equipment how to properly disinfect the materials and protect themselves.
- If a client dives with you for several days, label the rental equipment so that client always gets the same equipment. The other listed recommendations still apply.