We’re into our second week of no sauna sessions at BCMSS. Hopefully you’re not coming here for your COVID19 news and information. Of course we’ve been missing our saunas and thinking about what social distancing means for social sauna bathers, so that’s what this post is all about. I’m not a doctor or a health professional, so take what I’ve written here in the context of information from your health authorities.
About 2 weeks ago internationally recognized epidemiologist Michael Osterholm was interviewed on the Joe Rogan show #1439
where they discussed saunas in the context of coronavirus. Thanks to Joe for being a big sauna fan and making a point of asking these questions for us. Michael is also a big sauna fan from Minnesota so he is well positioned to give some insight based on his expertise.
Saunas are not going to cure you of COVID19. The heat will not go into your lungs and kill viruses there. Going into a small room or sauna with a group of people will greatly increase the chances of transmitting the virus among those people. So we have to think about how we are using saunas and make some changes. Saunas are good for your general health and wellbeing, so I think it’s a good idea to determine if and how we can maintain the use of saunas during this time.
I’m not usually a fan of small personal saunas, but if you have one, keep using it for yourself and potentially with the housemates you are isolated with. If you’re already sleeping, eating, and cuddling with someone, taking a sauna with them is not going to introduce any new transmission opportunities.
The second case we can consider is a shared or community sauna. We still want to avoid using a sauna concurrently with others to avoid infection. Can a group of people use the same sauna at different times and avoid the risk of transmission? Let’s look at how long the virus can remain active in the air and on surfaces, and under what conditions.
“With good soap cleaning, the coronavirus can be destroyed. The virus also degrades, for example, in alcohol-based solutions. Even the sauna is useful, at these temperatures these viruses probably won’t live anymore” said Marjomäki.
Looking at other coronaviruses, high temperature Coronaviruses (MERS-CoV) died when under environmental circumstances of 56 degrees Celsius (132 degrees F) for 25 minutes. Increasing the temperature to 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees F) was even better and only one minute was needed to kill viruses.
The study suggests that people may acquire the coronavirus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. Scientists discovered the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Finally we also know that UV light is used by hospitals and businesses to disinfect pathogens on equipment, in the air and on surfaces. UV-light products have seem increased sales, but it’s unclear what intensity of UV light, what wavelengths, and what durations are required.
Taken together, we can start with some community sauna guidelines.
If you have a public sauna like a recreation centre or spa, these should be closed for now. If you have a sauna in your local community, your building, or a backyard sauna, I think these can still be used in a limited fashion. Only sauna with your self-isolation or quarantine group, like your spouse, partner, family members or housemates that are socially isolating with you. You can then share a sauna with other groups on different days, allowing enough time between each group for any coronavirus present to become inactive.
This part gets a little tricky. I’ve seen reports saying it takes as little as 24 hours or up to 4 days for the virus to become inactive on different surfaces. Time estimates depend on your source, and I suspect this will be updated as more studies become available. Just today I read a new publication claiming the virus lived for up to 17 days in some areas on infected cruise ships. The good news for us, it seems to be reported that the shorter times of 24 hours are for porous surfaces (like cardboard or in our case, cedar benches).
I think we could reasonably share a sauna between two groups. The time span between sessions would depend on the source your find most credible. If it’s 7 days, you could alternate every other week, or even as frequently as one group every 4 days. With the cruise ship finding, it would be 2 groups per month. Better than none at all.
We can also use the vulnerability of virus to sauna temperatures, and run the sauna hot before we use it to help kill any viruses present. I don’t think these temperatures will be high enough if you’re a fan of mild heat or infrared saunas. It might be a good idea to use a sauna thermometer if you don’t already have one. You could add additional measures between uses with alcohol wipe-downs, washing surfaces with soap, and UV light treatments.
We’ll keep our eye out for more sauna-specific information. I’m still unclear on how long the virus can survive on various surfaces under what conditions, this article was informative but unclear as to whether it’s definitive.
If you’re not using your sauna and home-bound in isolation, it’s good time to do some sauna maintenance, or a chance to do some upgrades. Refurbishing your benches, adding new accent lighting, carving artistic details are some activities that you can do while we wait this out. I’m considering building a temporary tiny sauna from materials in the shop to last us the duration of this pandemic.
Based on the vulnerability of coronavirus to high temperatures, it might even be a consideration to use your sauna to disinfect items, although we have no reports to suggest this as a useful practice, and I wouldn’t be cooking my various clothes items if I’m sharing a sauna with another group.
So by all means if you have a personal sauna for use by your household, use it. While a sauna probably won’t help you if you have coronavirus, I think we should keep using our saunas for general health and psychological well-being. Based on the ideas discussed above, I don’t think a shared sauna is incompatible with social distancing, provided the sharing is limited and follows specific guidelines based on what we know about the virus.