Scripps Scientist Says ‘Don’t Go Near the Ocean’ as Beach Is One of Most Dangerous Places Right Now

by on April 7, 2020 · 18 comments

in California, History, Ocean Beach

UPDATE: Please see Kim Prather’s clarification on her position about staying out of the ocean here.

By Rosanna Xia / Los Angeles Times / April 2, 2020

Kim Prather, a leading atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wants to yell out her window at every surfer, runner, and biker she spots along the San Diego coast.

“I wouldn’t go in the water if you paid me $1 million right now,” she said.

The beach, in her estimation, is one of the most dangerous places to be these days, as the novel coronavirus marches silently across California.

Many beachgoers know they can suffer skin rashes, stomach illness and serious ear and respiratory infections if they go into the water within three days of a heavy rain, because of bacteria and pathogens washing off roads and into the ocean. Raw or poorly treated sewage entering the ocean also poses major health risks.

Prather fears that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could enter coastal waters in similar ways and transfer back into the air along the coast.

In her research, Prather has found that the ocean churns up all kinds of particulate and microscopic pathogens, and every time the ocean sneezes with a big wave or two, it sprays these particles into the air. She believes that this new coronavirus is light enough to float through the air much farther than we think. The six-feet physical distancing rule, she said, doesn’t apply at the beach, where coastal winds can get quite strong and send viral particles soaring.

“It’s not going to kill you if you miss a few surfing sessions, but it could if you go out there and get in the wrong air,” she said.

“You can’t see the virus, you can’t smell it … It’s a real silent killer right now.”

For the balance of this article, please go here.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks April 7, 2020 at 8:35 pm

This just gets better and better, eh folks? My ex-biologist surfer longest friend on Windward Side on that mid-80s Task Force was talking about this in February.

I started wearing N95 masks in Feb, but now I’m only going out every 11 days to get the mail at the po box, a 30 mile round trip. There was no mailbox or delivery when I bought this property…



triggerfinger April 8, 2020 at 10:14 am

Glad to see the rag finally boarding the fear and hysteria express.


Frank Gormlie April 8, 2020 at 10:16 am

Are you denying Prather’s research about ocean spray? It’s important for beach goers and people who live near the ocean to know the warnings from scientists. And this from the guy who said, “If anything the nomination of Donald Trump represents democracy at it’s purest.”


Ol OB Hippie April 8, 2020 at 10:35 am

Yeah, we as a society are so good at listening to our scientists, right?


triggerfinger April 8, 2020 at 2:18 pm

Tyler explained it clearly below, straight from the source.

The only question now is if you prefer cheap clicks, or if you prefer credibility.


Ol OB Hippie April 8, 2020 at 10:59 am

Actually, I’d rather board the Urban Leaf express. Is it still running?


OB Joe April 8, 2020 at 11:01 am

Don’t know, dude, but let’s ask our local expert, Joaquin Express , uh, I mean Joaquin Antique.


Tyler April 8, 2020 at 6:07 am

You do realize Prather wrote a rather lengthy post of Facebook like 2 days ago saying the author of the LAT story took her comments entirely out of context, right? That comment about not going near the ocean was a general comment about going out after rain due to pollution.

Some journalism going on here….


Frank Gormlie April 8, 2020 at 10:14 am

Gee, LA Times and SD Union-Tribune not good enough for Tyler. So, where’s your source link, dude?


Tyler April 8, 2020 at 12:31 pm

I subscribe to both the SDUT and the LAT, Frank. I like supporting good journalism. This was bad journalism.

Here’s the link to Prather’s post:

A few quotes from it:

“Now, what about the other part of the article where I said I would not go into the ocean if you paid me? That was totally taken out of context and when I first read the opening lines in the article, I cringed and contacted the writer right away. The way it is written it sounds like this is what I wanted to “yell” at people. No, my concern about cyclists, runners, surfers had to do with the air possibly traveling further than 6 ft. In another part of the conversation, we discussed all of the pollution run-off and sewage that get into the ocean especially after the rains we have had. It is well documented that our oceans become polluted at times–many here in SD are quite polluted now. The point I was trying to make was I would not go in the ocean (here in SD) where it is polluted right now nor would I go to the crowded beaches. As I suspected would happen that quote about not going in the ocean has now been used for many headlines around the world and interpreted to mean I would not go in any ocean right now.

We discussed the research my group is doing on how much human-made pollution that gets into the ocean gets launched into the atmosphere and the potential health effects. I made it clear this is a research project and it will be a long time before we know the answers. I made it very clear that SARS-CoV-2 has not been detected in the ocean or atmosphere by anyone. Much research needs to be done to understand this virus and how/if it travels through the environment. It is also a virus that has a fragile “envelope” that if disrupted by heat, salt, or water would likely kill the virus–that is very good news.

The ocean is loaded with many harmless natural viruses and bacteria that play a vital role in the health of our ecosystem. We are addressing how human pollution is changing this ecosystem. It is a research area we are extremely excited about but it is not one that should ever be used to invoke fear in people especially at this time. Sadly, I never saw this coming. As soon as I saw the article, I called the reporter and pointed out how slanted and out of context it was (especially the beginning which was out of context and alarming)–but it was too late. She said she was receiving many positive comments and could not change it.

In the end, a number of surfers took offense to this article suggesting they be cautious in polluted water. I received some really nasty notes. The positive side is that a number of top surfers reached out and asked me for clarification — I explained what happened. They immediately realized that I was only trying to help people during this pandemic and were extremely supportive and apologized for the more negative surfers. I will be doing a webinar for some of the organizations soon to discuss our current understanding of the aerosol transport pathway of this virus.

This week, I went through a period where I wondered if I should continue to talk with reporters about this topic. I have done hundreds of interviews over my career and have never had anything like this happen before. I feel it is important for scientists to help the public understand what is going on-especially during this period of alternative facts. In the end, I decided it is important to continue to talk with a select subset of reporters to help the messages get out there that will save lives. I am doing interviews with known writers, requesting to see the article before it is published (to check for scientific accuracy), and getting agreement on topics in advance. These are things they teach you in any science communication course. I am kicking myself for letting my guard down and talking so openly about a wide range of topics from early research efforts to more well documented literature. It is always better to focus on a key message or two especially during a global pandemic! In the end, we all are human and make mistakes especially under this tremendous unprecedented period of stress.

I am keeping the conversation focused on the most useful messages right now which are: stay home, save lives. Keep your distance. Six feet might not be enough if you are near someone who is infected. Of course, keep exercising and enjoying the outdoors as mental and physical health are so critical especially right now–just do it where there are not a ton of people. And, in the end, if there is a breeze, do what you would do to avoid the directly exhaled smoke.”


Frank Gormlie April 8, 2020 at 2:37 pm

Okay Tyler, thanks for Prather’s fb link; we’re re-published it as you can see. She does clarify her stance on staying out of the ocean. I still don’t see how you expect the OB Rag to keep up with the nuances of a story when the SDUT and LAT publish a report – and they have sooooooooooooo many more resources than yur little ol OB Rag. Thanks again for your patience in trying to get us to understand this story’s development.


Tyler April 8, 2020 at 2:59 pm

Frank – my knock on the journalism was with respect to the LAT journalist and not The Rag. It’s just a shame the LAT was unwilling to correct the story due to all the “positive responses.”


Peter from South O April 8, 2020 at 11:59 am

I watched her interview on TV, and she DID link this to after rain pollution, but was emphatic about not surfing at all; her chosen specialty is the study of ocean spray and pathogen transmission via same.


Obsurfer April 8, 2020 at 10:40 am

Is it just me or does everyone just breeze on past her comments about surfers, RUNNERS and BIKERS. I get the point, interested to look further into the claim she posted her comments were misconstrued. But cmon, this is so obvious skewed against surfer. Wheres he fair and equal rules applying to runners and bikers as well??????? Wheres the fear and hysteria, and shaming, and overall discrimination towards them?


Geoff Page April 8, 2020 at 11:45 am

Well, what the article said was “every surfer, runner, and biker she spots along the San Diego coast.” You can run or bike away from the ocean but the ocean is the only place to surf. I think it’s nuts myself. A surfer in a full wetsuit, and on old dude like me wearing a hood to stay warm, is as covered up as anyone I see in the grocery stores and they aren’t drenched in salt water.


obbsurfer April 8, 2020 at 11:54 am

True Geoff, but the cliffs are lined with runners and bikers most days, and far outnumber the surfers, and there have been no restrictions at all on them. Thats whats confusing to me and needs to be addressed. I am all for taking a break from surfing until things are better but lets be fair and reasonable and most of all safe and put restrictions on runners and bikers along the oceans edge as well.


Geoff Page April 8, 2020 at 12:17 pm

You have a good point.

I haven’t been down there to see that, I’ve been running east along the river only because that bike path is not under as much scrutiny as along the coast and the beach areas are all lit up at night, whereas the bike path is not.


triggerfinger April 8, 2020 at 2:23 pm

Or.. you could say, if the joggers aren’t creating a grave danger, the surfers definitely aren’t, so let us surf.

Because this approach of “I can’t have this so he shouldn’t have that” will only result in everything being locked down “out of an abundance of caution”. And it’s impossible to argue with that logic, because it’s illogical.

At what point do the sheep start standing up for themselves?


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