Pickleball and COVID-Staying Safe on the Courts with Dr Sarah Webb

You flooded my inbox with questions about staying safe on the pickleball courts during this COVID crisis. Now, if you ask me about pickleball or health and wellness, I’m happy to answer those. I’ve shied away from talking about this because it’s totally outside of my area of expertise, but I’ve found someone to help us to get these questions answered.


Besides being an avid pickleball player, Dr. Sarah Webb has some outstanding credentials. She is a retired pathologist, in private practice for 25 years, was Chair of Infection Control at a community hospital for ten years, and Director of a Microbiology Lab at a community hospital for 15 years. Dr. Webb recently authored the purposed return to play guidelines for the city of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. Dr. Webb is going to share with us the things we need to understand about pickleball and COVID.

Seattle Parks and Rec Pickleball Return to Play Guidelines

Things are always changing with the COVID virus, and it’s important to mention this blog post and video were created in the first week of August 2020.

Dr. Webb, right now, in general, is it safe to be out playing pickleball?

“I think it’s very safe outside, as long as you’re where you live is in the correct phase, that it’s allowed, and you follow certain guidelines, which we’re going to talk about.”

So before we get into those guidelines, are there specific groups of people who should not be playing pickleball because of COVID?

“I don’t want to say that they shouldn’t be playing, but some people should be a lot more cautious than other people. People that have problems, someone who’s obese or has a serious health condition. They should consider playing with the family group or with small groups of people and not do drop in pickleball. Obviously, anyone that has been exposed to someone who has COVID shouldn’t be playing for 14 days. That goes without saying.”

I love the way you broke down the guidelines arrival, during play, between games, and then leaving the courts. What should we be doing when we arrive at the courts?

“You should arrive not too long before your game so that you don’t congregate in the parking lot, and when you’re entering the courts, try not to touch the fence or the gates to get in. But if you do, be sure to sanitize your hands. At any rate, Everybody should be sanitizing your hands right before they play.”

“Be sure to wear your mask when you’re coming to the court and when you’re putting your bag down and get your paddles and your balls out. And also wearing masks when you’re putting up nets.”

One other thing to think about is to have some kind of way of keeping track of who is playing, having a sign-up sheet is kind of problematic because of having a pen and having to clean the pen. I personally am just keeping track of who’s playing every day. But not Everybody has somebody like me that’s willing to do that. But that’s one thing to think about.”

All right, now we’re getting ready to play. What do we need to know during the game?

“As far as masks go, obviously it would be optimal if everyone wore a mask, but I realize, some people find them uncomfortable. I find them uncomfortable if it’s hot. You can breathe fine in a mask. In fact, an anesthesiologist did a recent study on YouTube, where he wore six masks, and he measured his oxygen and carbon dioxide and they were totally normal. So you can breathe, but it is uncomfortable. So, yeah, I don’t think that you have to wear a mask if you’re playing outside. However, if you have a partner that feels more comfortable wearing a mask, I think it’s only right that you wear one.”

“As far as the balls, I sanitize the balls at home with a 10 percent solution of Clorox, and then at the court, I sanitize them with either wipes or hand sanitizer. The USAPA recommended that everyone had their own ball, and we tried that, and we just found it untenable. People cannot remember that. So what I think works is for each court to have their own ball, either a different color ball or you can mark it with a marker. When the ball goes between courts, people should either kick it back or tap it with their paddle back instead of picking it up and throwing it back. Then in between games, when people change courts, the ball should be sanitized.”

“As far as the paddles don’t stack paddles, you probably won’t have to at this point because there shouldn’t be that many people in the courts. In Seattle, we can only have five people per court, so we don’t really have to stack. But if you did, some alternatives would be to hang the paddles in the fence or lie them on the ground in order. But just be sure to do so, that they’re so far enough apart that people don’t congregate when they’re going to get their paddles.”

“And don’t tap your paddles after a game, just wave them.”

Dr. Webb, you told me something about gloves that caught me off guard.

“I must mention that the USAPA did recommend in their guidelines wearing gloves, but I don’t think they read the scientific literature before they did that.  USAPA I love you, but these types of gloves are not made to keep out viruses, they’re just made to keep out blood and body fluids, and they’re very porous, and viruses actually can go through them.”

“When you sweat, they get even more porous, and when you sweat, all kinds of bacteria build up inside them.  Also, disposable gloves are very difficult to take off properly unless you’re medical personnel, and you can easily contaminate your hands when taking them off. And finally, disposable gloves are more likely to attract viruses in your hands because of the smooth surface. If you wear gloves and then touch your face, you’re more likely to get the virus on your face than you would if it was just your hands.”

In addition to the disposable gloves, I’ve seen people wearing golf gloves, racketball gloves and those types of things, are those any different from the disposable gloves?

“No, and in fact, those are probably even porous, because a lot of them have quite large holes in them.”

I’m going to guess that because this is such a social game, one of the more challenging times for us as pickleball players is in between games. Dr. Webb, what should we be doing?

“I agree with you that that’s a problematic time. We need to remember not to congregate around benches. Most of the pickleball courts I’ve played on don’t have enough benches for people to sit, so people need to bring their own chairs if they want to sit. Make sure to space those chairs six feet apart and don’t sit in other people’s chairs because you might touch their chairs. It’s probably a good idea to wear a mask when you’re not playing, even if you’re six feet sitting six feet apart.”

Old habits die hard, and it doesn’t take long to see things change once we get to the courts. What are the biggest mistakes that you see people making when we’re at the courts?

“Well, as we just mentioned in between games, I’ve seen people congregating to talk. Some people, they do this everywhere, pull their mask down to talk to somebody. They forget when the game’s over or when the session is over to go take down the nets, they just run to take down the nets without going to get their masks and put their mask back on. Now that I mentioned hitting balls back to the court, this is really hard to remember, and people pick up the balls a lot, it’s really hard to remember to hit them back with your hand or your foot.”

“The other thing is I’ve seen people congregate when going to pick up their paddles when they’re stacked in a fence or on the ground. People get too close because they’re excited. They want to get to the court. I’ve seen people sitting in other people’s chairs.”

Dr. Webb, at the start of this, you mentioned these guidelines were for outdoor pickleball. What about indoor pickleball?

“I really don’t think indoor pickleball is safe at this point. However, if you were to consider it, I would only do it if you had a family group. Or possibly if you had a small group of the four people that you played with and only with those people.”

Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your COVID expertise and guidelines with everyone in the better community.

“You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing your expertise in pickleball and health with me on your YouTube channel.”


We know that you are going to have some questions about the information that Dr. Webb shared with us. So we’ve decided that we’re going to take this conversation over to Pickleballist so everyone can see the discussion. If you would like to join us. Pickleballist is a free community of pickleball lovers sharing their pickleball journey.

Seattle Parks and Rec Pickleball Return to Play Guidelines

Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J. Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well

Email: CJ@BetterPickleball.com

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  1. Betsy Sander (Jacksonville, FL) on August 9, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Helpful info. Thanks!

  2. Art Chu on August 9, 2020 at 10:06 am

    If the doctor is so anti-gloves, her rules for Seattle should
    include “No Gloves”. Or perhaps, “No Gloves Unless You Are A Medically Trained Professional” (which is what the CDC was saying about masks in the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Only medical professionals knew the correct way to put on, wear, and take off a mask. )
    The doctor implies that it is less risky to play without gloves than it is to play with gloves. Would the same logic apply when I go grocery shopping and handle fruit and produce that other people have touched.
    And I wonder if the Seattle rules makes sense for 100+ degree heat in Sacramento.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 9, 2020 at 10:27 am

      Art I think that’s a great question and a lot of people could benefit from the answer. I’ll pass it on to Dr. Webb and see what she has to say.
      When It comes to gloves, my understanding of what she said is that protective gloves are made for a purpose other than to prevent virus transmission and in some cases, the composition of those gloves could possibly enhance transmission.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 12, 2020 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Art, Here’s what Sarah had to say
      I don’t think gloves are a good idea for grocery shopping either. I’m not sure what you mean by rules being different for Sacramento. If anything, the heat there would make you sweat more in the gloves, making them more permeable.

  3. John on August 9, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Good information. Our group does a pretty job but some don’t do the distance thing as well as they should. We do mixed play and use Clorox water solution to clean the balls after each game. We wipe the nets down and don’t touch Paddles. We try to be responsible

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 9, 2020 at 7:04 pm

      Sounds like you’re doing well. As you know it can be hard to stay diligent.

  4. Jin Yoo on August 13, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Thank you, CJ and Dr. Sarah, for the very helpful information to avoid Corona virus for all pickleball players. We are so fortunate to have Dr Sarah nearby who is most kind and generous to share her medical knowledge and fun to play the games together. I, myself, have been very lucky to have great people around me throughout my life and Dr Sarah is one of them.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 13, 2020 at 10:42 am

      I just recently had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah and I agree with you Jin, she is awesome!