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Polar Bear swimmers forced to mask during New Year's Day dip in Pacific Ocean

This goes against CDC guidelines which say swim venues should "discourage staff and visitors from wearing masks in the water."

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Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
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The annual Alki Beach Polar Bear swim in West Seattle is a go for New Year’s Day 2022 with some new regulations which include participants must wear a mask.

According to organizer and community activist Mark Ufkes and Lois Schipper:

· Adults must be vaccinated and boostered against Covid 19.
· Everyone must wear a mask.
· You and your group must be Covid-free, be in good health, and distance yourselves 6 feet from others while on the beach.

In 2021, participants were encouraged to stagger their frigid swims throughout the day, instead of all at once.

The Pacific Northwest was hit with a snowstorm and freezing temperatures this weekend which are expected to last the week. Aside from the obvious danger from hypothermia, which has not seemed to dissuade participants in years past, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated on their website that it is not advisable to wear face coverings in the water as face coverings become more difficult to breathe through when they get wet.

According to the CDC, "Encourage people who are not fully vaccinated to use masks indoors, except in the water." The website even adds that swim venues should "discourage staff and visitors from wearing masks in the water."

Additionally, the CDC also recommends to "Remind staff and visitors that goggles, SCUBA masks, and other such masks should not be used to protect against COVID-19."

Ufkes claims that the event’s regulations are "According to Washington State regulations."

However, masking while swimming is not endorsed by any Washington state or local health boards, despite having some of the strictest COVID restrictions in the country. Nor is one required to be vaccinated, let alone boosted, to participate in local events.

The Washington Department of Health states on their website that "People are not required to wear face coverings while engaged in outdoor training or competition in any type of sport." Additionally, "All athletes, including unvaccinated people, are not required to wear face coverings while engaged in indoor training or competition for low and moderate contact sports."

The DOH also stated in their guidelines that "People are not required to wear face coverings while swimming or engaged in other water sports or recreation," nor while "showering, bathing, or engaging in other personal hygiene or grooming activities that require the removal of the face covering" and "when outdoors"

Organizers might be incorrectly interpreting Washington Democrat Governor Jay Inslee's requirements for large events and applying them instead of athletic competition requirements. Even so, there is no requirement for boosters. Additionally, negative COVID tests are still an option for many indoor venues that do require vaccination.

The event begins at 10:00 AM January 1, 2022 at Alki Beach in West Seattle.

Ufkes added in the announcement in describing proper attire for the event that "I wear Goodwill pink every year, to celebrate the day in the not-to-distant future when over 50% of our Members of Congress will be women and/or People of Color. Imagine the message that would send to the world and how much more empathy we will have in our national governance."

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