Indoor Pickleball and Covid-How to Stay Safe

Today, Dr. Sarah Webb is back, and she’s sharing some insights on playing pickleball indoors this winter.

Just a few days after we shot this video, she emailed me this article. Twenty members of the same pickleball club in Canada caught COVID-19 from playing together on indoor courts. She’s got some safety tips for playing indoor pickleball.

Dr. Webb, tell us a little about your background.

I’m retired now, but for 30 years, I was a pathologist. For many of those years, I was the Chief of Infection Control at the hospital and the Director of the Microbiology Lab.

Some things have changed with COVID-19 since the last time we spoke, and I’ve been getting a lot of questions from players transitioning from outdoor play to indoor play. Sarah, let’s start with the general guidelines. What’s changed since our last conversation?

The main two things that we’ve learned a lot more about are called fomites, which means virus particles that get stuck on inanimate objects. This is one way that many other viruses like the common cold and the flu are transmitted. But we found that the COVID-19 virus does not spread that way very readily, especially on things like pickleballs—rough surfaces like that the virus does not adhere to. So, I’m a lot less worried about the balls.

In the original recommendations, I recommended bleaching the balls and wiping down the balls between play and not sharing balls between courts. But I’m not concerned about that anymore because that’s not a method of transmission.

Similarly, for the pickleball paddles. We should still try not to touch each other’s paddle handles, but we’re not so upset about it. If you want to paddle stack, I think that’s OK to do that.

The other thing that’s changed is we know a lot more about different types of masks, and we can talk more about that when we talk about indoor well.

I know you addressed this issue last time, but I am still seeing some gloves showing up at the pickleball courts. Can you talk again about the guidance on using gloves for protection?

Well, that’s related to what I just said. Now that we know that the virus is not transmitted much by touching things, there’s really no reason at all to think that gloves are going to protect you. They didn’t protect you before, but now there’s even more reason not to wear them.

OK, let’s talk about playing inside. I’m getting many questions about what’s safe and some recommendations that you have for playing inside? Maybe specifically, we should start with masks.

We’ve learned a lot since the beginning of this pandemic about different types of masks. Obviously, we don’t want to be wearing N95 masks because they’re still in short supply, and the hospitals need those.

We’ve found that surgical masks are much more efficient in preventing droplet spread compared to cloth masks. Cloth masks are OK for outside. In fact, I have a really cute pickleball cloth mask that I like to wear. But inside, surgical masks are much more efficient, and that’s what would be better to wear inside. Recently we’ve also found out that the masks protect you as well as protecting other people. So, that’s even more incentive to wear them.

Dr. Webb, if everyone is wearing a mask, would it be OK to have Drop-In Pickleball?

I really don’t think that’s a good idea, C.J. The surgical masks and cloth masks are not fitted to your face, particularly around the sides. A lot of air can escape. They do block a lot of the droplets, but particularly when you’re breathing heavy, they found that the aerosols can escape out the side of the masks.

I really don’t think that’s a good idea because most of us playing pickleball are breathing pretty heavily. I don’t know about you, but when I run back to get a lob and run back to the kitchen line, I’m breathing pretty heavy. The mask isn’t going to be very effective in that case. It’s better to limit your play to people inside your bubble.

Our own household is pretty self-explanatory, but let’s talk about that bubble. Expand on that just a little more, if you would, please.

Obviously, I’m thinking of doubles because my group always plays doubles. Still, the best scenario would be playing singles if you’re going to be inside, or you could play skinny singles if you’re not able to play singles.

If you do play doubles inside, you really need to limit your bubble really to just four people that you play with all the time.

Public health officials have found out that people are expanding their bubbles and getting more and more people in their bubbles. That’s one of the things that’s causing the vast spread at this point. Just keep it (your bubble) as small as you can.

Dr. Webb, is there anything else that you would like to remind the better pickleball community about when it comes to Covid and staying safe?

We are all getting Covid fatigue, and people are sometimes a little lax about keeping up with safety precautions. It’s just hard to do something for such a long time. But this is not the time to give up on those(precautions) because this is actually going to be a very difficult time. With winter coming and more people being inside and the holidays, the cases are already going up, and they’re going to go up even more. I know it’s frustrating because we all want to play as much as we can, and it’s hard when it’s raining and snowing, and you can’t play outside and want to go inside. But we still have to keep up with precautions to keep everybody safe.

Geographical impacts have spawned a variety of local mandates and safety recommendations. Please make sure to adhere to those.

Dr. Sarah Webb has been an outstanding resource for the Better Pickleball Channel and the pickleball community. We’d like to thank her for the time and the effort she’s given to educating us to keep us safe!


.Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J.
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  1. Marlys Lein on November 28, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    Our club had been playing inside since Sept 28, we had formed 3 cohorts of 50 members, we dissect the balls at the end of each session and we provide hand sanitizer to be used during the matches. We have had only 1 member test positive and she caught the virus from her son in law, no member of her group has tested positive we did shut down that cohort/group right away for 14 days and request they all be tested. I think
    Playing inside is very doable with some protocols in place.
    Strathmore Pickleball Club (Alberta)

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 3, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Marlys I’m glad your club hasn’t had any issues. However, not having any issues doesn’t mean that it’s safe to do. I think Dr. Webb was clear on what she thought were safe guidelines. If someone was going to play indoors she recommended wearing masks and playing with immediate family or a small bubble.

  2. R Bruce Peck on November 28, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for this update. We play outside mostly but some of our circle play indoor as well, without masks. I will share this article with them.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 28, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      I too am grateful that Dr. Webb is so willing to share her expertise. Stay safe!

  3. Casey Parnell on November 28, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Great article, CJ. I work in public health, this is a very important topic and grateful to Dr. Webb for sharing her expertise and recommendations.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 28, 2020 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Casey, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to meet yet but Sarah is a VIPickelball Member too. Reach out and say hi to her. What do you do in public health?

  4. Robin Hamilton on December 3, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Could you please describe “bubbles” within the context of PB? I play with the same 4 or 5 people regularly but many work in town and in communities and are exposed to many people-we are not a ‘family’. Can you please describe specifically how playing with folks that you play with regularly who have busy lives with many people off the court can be safe? I find it quite confusing. Is it just for ease with regard to contact tracing? Thanks!

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 3, 2020 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Robin A bubble would be a small group of family and/or trusted friends who agree to similar social behaviors or rules to try to keep everyone as safe as possible. As for your second question, Dr. Webb’s recommendations to mitigate the risk for indoor play was to play wearing masks with people who are inside your immediate family or bubble.