The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many questions, and divers around the world are wondering how to move forward in these uncertain times. While the pandemic will probably not go away anytime soon, divers are slowly getting back to diving as local regulations permit. In light of that, DAN offers some updated COVID-19 diving precautions.
Most of us have seen or heard of the CDC’s guidelines: wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water; use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available; don’t touch your face with unwashed hands; keep 6 feet away from others, cover your cough; and wear a mask. Many divers are wondering how we can apply these guidelines to diving. Furthermore, what extra precautions must divers take when renting equipment?
The dive community is rightly scrutinizing quite a few diving practices that have existed for decades. These practices include spitting in masks instead of using a defog product, dunking masks in a communal bucket, and rinsing equipment with fresh water only. In order to lessen the potential for viral spread, the dive community must work together to update some of these practices.
Spitting in masks
While most divers swear by using spit as defog, this practice is risky in our new reality. According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread mainly by “respiratory droplets” that are produced when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets then land in or on the mouths and noses of nearby people. They can also be generated when a person spits, and droplets that don’t land in a mask could be carried to another diver.
Communal mask bucket
We don’t currently know whether the virus can survive in a communal mask bucket if someone infected with the virus contaminates the water. The good news is that these buckets aren’t essential, so getting rid of them is likely the best way forward to help reduce the potential for spread of infection.
Freshwater rinse tank
There is evidence that coronaviruses can survive in fresh water, although time and conditions are currently unknown. Thusly, it’s a good idea to avoid potentially contaminating the water with dirty equipment. Luckily, the solution to this is easy — disinfect equipment before rinsing.
Use the proper disinfectant
If your product is on List N, the next step is to check the product registration in the EPA Pesticide Product and Label System. Most products do not specify that they can be used on scuba equipment, but they do specify that they can be used on “respirators” or “full face breathing apparatuses.” Checking for appropriate applications in the product registration is incredibly important, because this shows that the product is safe to use on breathing equipment.
Once you’ve picked your disinfectant, follow the directions carefully. If you don’t, you will not reap the advertised effects — that is, a too-weak dilution or too-short soaking time could fail to disinfect your equipment. A too-strong dilution or too-long soaking time could damage gear.
If you don’t have access to a product on List N, you can use a solution made of 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water instead, with a soaking time of one minute. Thoroughly rinse equipment after disinfecting and allow it to dry completely. You must follow these directions, as long soak times could harm equipment as stated above.
What about wetsuits?
Many divers and dive operators also ask about wetsuit disinfection. There are not very many products that outline neoprene or wetsuits in their registrations, so here we turn again to the CDC’s guidelines. You can clean wetsuits with a combination of soap, water, and agitation (such as scrubbing with a soft brush) or launder them using the warmest appropriate settings and allow them to dry completely. It would be best to check with your suit’s manufacturer to ask for their advice as well.
Divers must realize the importance of using proven disinfectants on their equipment and refrain from falling back on old practices. This includes some products common in the dive industry that are not on List N or not approved for use on respirators or other breathing equipment.
Advocate for yourself
Divers who are concerned about COVID-19 must take the correct precautions to protect themselves and others. If you’re thinking about booking a trip, call the dive operator and ask what disinfection procedures they’ve put in place. If they don’t seem adequate to you, book elsewhere. This is especially important if you plant to rent equipment.
If your dive destination is close to home or otherwise convenient, bring your own equipment, or at least the equipment that will come into contact with your eyes, nose and mouth. You should also consider cleaning your gear by yourself, away from other people or communal rinse tanks.
Make the rules and enforce them
If you work at a dive shop, create a clear plan and let customers know ahead of time about any special procedures they will have to follow. Consistency is key, so even divers who bring their own equipment should follow relevant procedures, such as disinfecting equipment before rinsing in a communal rinse tank.
Some top-notch examples of dive centers taking disinfection seriously have surfaced. This video of Mares Ecuador’s infection control procedure is a fantastic example of steps that dive operations can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
With a somewhat uncertain future, it’s hard to know what diving will look like this time next year, but we do know that COVID-19 will change the diving community’s practices for the better. Greater attention to infection control can only serve our community well.