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What to Pack for the Beach to Avoid Covid-19

Is it safe to go to the beach during coronavirus? Yes—with the proper precautions. Here's the essential packing list, according to Covid-19 experts.

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overhead shot of people at the beachMarioGuti/Getty Images

Summer heat and coronavirus

Unfortunately, the hot weather is not slowing down the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), as some experts predicted. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay inside: Summer breezes can help disperse any virus-containing aerosols that are released when infected people cough, sneeze, or speak, explains Sarah Raskin, PhD, assistant professor of homeland security and emergency preparedness department at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

You still have to practice caution: Beaches are on the list of the places you’re likely to catch Covid-19—nearly 1,000 new cases tied to a long weekend of crowded beach-going at the Lake of the Ozarks in May. Happily, there is no evidence SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted via water, according to Sabina Anne Rebis, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Yale-New Haven Health, Bridgeport Hospital, Connecticut.

The issue is the crowds of people at the beach and whether those people are taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, explains Susan Besser, MD, family care physician, Mercy Personal Physicians, Nottingham, Maryland. “If everyone could stay at least six feet apart and wear masks all the time, the risk would be significantly less.”

sunglasses, beach hat, and face maskSonja Rachbauer/Getty Images

Beach packing list and safety tips

So, what does “being prepared” for the beach actually mean during a pandemic? It’s the same as being prepared for any other situation, says Brian Fink, epidemiologist and associate professor of population health at the University of Toledo Health Science Campus in Ohio. Specifically, Fink is referring to social distancing, good hygiene, and wearing a mask when you’re not in the water. In addition, our experts say being prepared means:

  • Staying home if you’re at high risk for complications
  • Staying home when you’re not feeling well, or if you’ve been exposed to someone with the virus and are still awaiting the results of your Covid-19 test
  • Being open to the possibility of leaving if the beach is so crowded that social distancing seems impossible
  • Being aware of activities going on around you that could put you at risk, such as singing or talking loudly (the virus may have opportunity to spread faster and further)

And finally, being prepared means bringing with you a lot of the expert-recommended items for your beach packing list.

via amazon.com

Bring spare face masks

$12 for a box of 50

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By now it goes without saying that wearing a mask can help curb the spread of Covid-19. But according to San Francisco-based internal medicine physician, Shoshanna Ungerleider, MD, one mask is definitely not enough for the beach. There are simply too many opportunities for your mask to become wet or dirty or otherwise damaged. So bring two. Or three. Or go ahead and bring a whole box of disposables, as Raskin suggests, only half-jokingly. If you prefer to wear a light fabric reusable mask, then don’t forget to bring extras along with plastic bags to place your used ones in.

hand sanitizervia amazon.com

Bring plenty of hand sanitizer

$37 for a gallon bottle

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Also top on the experts’ list for a trip to the beach: hand sanitizer. Think about the handrails on stairs, concession stands, and public restrooms—you’ll need to wash your hands frequently to stay safe. As Dr. Djordjevic puts it, “When you touch something, you immediately should be sanitizing your hands.”

beach umbrellavia amazon.com

Use your own beach umbrella

$149

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Near the top of Dr. Ungerleider’s beach-packing list is a beach umbrella—and not just to keep the UV rays at bay. A beach umbrella can help define “your” space, she explains. Plus, having your own umbrella means you can create shelter and shade wherever you want, which allows you to keep a safe distance from other beachgoers. This BeachBub model is easy to carry and it comes with a base that will stand up to stiff breezes Plus: Towel hooks! (Find out if UV light kills coronavirus.)

waterproof picnic blanketvia amazon.com

Buy a waterproof picnic blanket

$26

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Another way to establish a safe social distancing is to bring an oversize spread and stake out a hefty chunk of territory, advises Thomas A. LaVeist, dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. This waterproof blanket is six-plus feet square, so you might want to consider two of them, jut in case.

beach chairsvia amazon.com

Bring your own beach chairs

$65

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Covid-19 isn’t the only concern at the beach—there are at least 12 more diseases you can catch waterside. That’s why it seems strange that, up until now, it was perfectly acceptable to rent beach chairs. No one’s renting chairs now, so make sure to bring your own. You’ll love these light, easy-to-haul models.

beach towelsvia amazon.com

Have an ample supply of beach towels

$38 for six

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Beach towels, of course, are on the must-pack beach-day list. Every member of your group should have their own so they’re not tempted to borrow someone else’s to quickly dry their face or hair. This ensures that you’re practicing good hygiene and limiting the potential spread of the virus.

swim noodlesvia amazon.com

Bring swim noodles

$13 for five

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Borrowing a swim-noodle is as unwise as borrowing a beach towel, Dr. Besser points out. And why would you when you can get five 52-inch noodles for less than $13? As an added bonus, you can also use these brightly colored swim noodles to delineate your personal space. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on them for swimming, and be aware of these hidden swimming dangers.

inflatable boatvia amazon.com

Bring an inflatable boat

$21 (not including oars, air pump, and life vest)

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If you’re heading to a bay or lake, it’s nice to have something to float on. But like beach chairs, beach towels, and swim noodles, an inflatable floatation device is not something you want to borrow or share, especially during a health pandemic. This inflatable one-person rowboat is safe for social distancing in all calm water (not just pools). You’ll also need to pick up oars, an air pump, and a life vest.

beach toysvia amazon.com

Bring beach toys

$17 for 18 toys

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When you’re going to the beach, you won’t want your children not to share shovels, pails, discs, or footballs with anyone—or at least not with anyone who is not in your social distancing circle. That’s where this 18-piece beach toy set comes in handy. (Here are more beach safety tips.)

disinfecting wipesvia homedepot.com

Bring a pack of disinfectant wipes

$10 for a three-pack

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It’s inevitable that during your day at the beach, try as you might to not touch things you shouldn’t, you’re going to touch something you shouldn’t. That’s where hand sanitizer comes in. It’s also inevitable you’re not going to remember that you touched the something you shouldn’t have until after you’ve touched a bunch of other things, such as your beach umbrella, your beach chair, or your kid’s toys. And that is where disinfectant wipes come in and why Fink doesn’t want you to go to the beach without them.

cottonelle toilet papervia amazon.com

Bring your own toilet paper

$25 for 24 rolls

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One of the biggest risks of going to the beach is using the restroom, says Leann Poston, MD, a pediatrician in Dayton, Ohio. “It’s likely crowded, and possibly not well-cleaned,” she explains, although you can probably imagine. “Wait until it is empty if possible before entering,” Dr. Poston advises, “and wash your hands when you leave. And then wipe your hands with hand sanitizer once you get outside.” In addition, it would be helpful to have your own toilet paper or even a box of tissues with you or when you take a child to the bathroom. The fewer things you touch in that public restroom, the better.

sailor soapvia amazon.com

Bring your own soap

$6 for 4 oz

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“Although sanitizing with an alcohol-based sanitizer is recommended, washing your hands thoroughly with soap is the most effective way of killing the virus,” Dr. Djordjevic says. That’s why he recommends carrying your own soap with you, and ideally, saltwater soap, which lathers even in seawater (so you don’t have to go to the restroom to wash your hands).

pirate's bootyvia amazon.com

Pack your own snacks

$9 for a pack of 12

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A great way to avoid crowds and shared spaces at the beach is to bring your own snacks. Raskin recommends single-serve snacks, which may not be the best choice for the environment but they do help limit cross-contamination from passing around shared containers. Dr. Rebis also suggests snacks like fruit squeeze snacks or peanut-butter squeeze packs.

water bottlevia amazon.com

A reusable water bottle

$21

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Just as you’re better off with your own personal snacks, you would also be wise to bring your own personal beverages—preferably water. And really, you can’t have enough water with you when you go to the beach, says Raskin. So, however much water you think you might need, plan to bring a little more. You may also want to check out these stainless steel water bottles.

sunglassesvia amazon.com

Bring a pair of sunglasses

$13

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Kevin Lee, MD, an ophthalmologist in San Francisco, recommends wearing sunglasses at the beach, and anywhere else you go that may attract crowds. “Since Covid-19 has the ability to spread by aerosol transmission and respiratory droplets, being in the vicinity of an infected person can actually result in transmission through the eyes,” says Dr. Lee. This Merry’s model are a pair of polarized sunglasses, which can help reduce glare at the beach.

hair tiesvia amazon.com

Bring your own hair ties

$4.00

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“Don’t touch your face.” You’ve probably heard that a lot during the pandemic. That’s because touching your face is one of the easiest ways to infect yourself with coronavirus. But is it really so easy? How about when your hair is long, and your hair is flying about in the wind, tickling your face? Bringing hair ties to the beach is a simple solution to this problem.

glad trash bagsvia amazon.com

Trash bags

$18 for 110

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In the age of coronavirus, bringing trash bags to the beach doesn’t only protect the beach, Dr. Poston points out. It also protects you from having to get anywhere near the public trash bins, which everyone touches (unless they have their own trash bags). Also, a friendly reminder, when you’re going to the beach don’t forget to bring sunscreen.

Sources
  • Sarah Raskin: PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Nate Favini: MD, internal medicine doctor in San Francisco, California
  • CNN: "Lake of the Ozarks Superspreader event"
  • Nikola Djordjevic, MD, family physician and medical advisor at HealthCareers.
  • Sabina A Rebis, MD, internal medicine doctor at Yale-New Haven Health - Bridgeport Hospital and founder of The Model of Health.
  • Susan Besser, MD, family practitioner for the Overlea community at Mercy Personal Physicans.
  • William Lang, MD, MHA, Chief Medical Officer at WorldClinic.
  • Brian Fink, PhD, MPH, CHES, epidemiologist and professor in the School of Population Health at The University of Toledo.
  • Thomas A. LaVeist, PhD, Dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans.
  • Shoshanna Ungerleider, MD, San Francisco-based internal medicine doctor
  • Emily Spivak, MD, MHS, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at University of Utah Health
  • Leann Poston, MD, MBA, MEd, a pediatrician with Invigor Medical and assistant dean and director of admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine
  • Kevin Lee, MD, eye physician and surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates within the Pacific Vision Eye Institute in San Francisco

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.