I am Team Stay The Fuck Home and my three kids and I have been social distancing as prescribed. To survive this, we all need a change of scenery once in a while, even if it means sending everyone to a different room of the house. But we are also active adventure seekers and love to be outside. Thankfully the CDC supports visiting public park and recreation sites if proper precautions are taken.
Vitamin D, fresh air, and exercise are critical for our mental and physical health. But crowded places and poor social distancing practices will negate both. Just looking at the photos of crowded public spaces gives me anxiety. Science has shown us that novel coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets between close person-to-person contact. You are not doing it right, people!
Common sense goes a long way, folks. If you don’t feel well or have been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19 within the last 14 days, don’t go to public spaces. Don’t leave the house.
Even if you are in the clear, you have some work to do before heading out. Decide where you will go to stretch your legs, be immersed in nature, or lose a kid for an hour to two. Some trails, parks, and beaches are closed. Check websites or local Facebook groups to see if the space you want to visit is open. It’s also good to ask folks if they have seen crowds at the place you plan on attending.
My kids (the oldest is nine and my twins are almost seven) have enough energy to power a small town, and I have very little energy to deal with them while they are jumping on furniture, spinning from room to room, or wrestling each other. Outside time is mandatory in our house. Our yard and quiet cul-de-sac have been great for playing and riding bikes, but staying within the confines of our own property has creative and physical limitations. Some days are filled with restlessness and agitation; my kids fight, run in and out of the house, and beg me for screen time. Nope. Boredom does not eclipse gratitude or well-being, but we have found ways to safely get outdoors to places beyond our property. It takes some forethought, however.
It also takes some begging and threatening. As much as my kids love to get out and get lost in the woods, when I mention we are going on an adventure, they revolt. I blame inertia for their bitching and moaning, but I dig deep, make a plan, pack the snacks and face masks and we hit the road.
Our popular trails are too busy for us to visit right now. I learned that the hard way a few weeks ago when my kids ran ahead of me on one of our familiar paths; I kept screaming at them to slow down or move over because I could see them approaching another family. We always maintained the recommended six feet of distance, but it was work to keep my kids and others distanced. Just because I was being vigilant doesn’t mean others were, and it was super stressful and wicked annoying. The benefits of outside time were not achieved.
Stick to nearby places; social distancing also means limiting travel.
This eliminates the potential need to stop before you reach your destination, which can increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Before you head out, be sure to check which facilities are open at the place you want to visit. After some internet searches for nature trails near my home, I recently took my kids to a park that allowed us to use the wide bike path and nature trail. The skate park, water fountain, bathrooms, picnic tables, and sports fields were closed. I packed water and toilet paper in case someone needed to pee in the woods or beside the van. The CDC also recommends bringing hand sanitizer in the event soap and water are not available.
And as hard as it is for kids to see the playground equipment and as tempting as it is to let our kids play on it because dear God it has been 18,734 days of this, playgrounds are off limits. Not only do they draw crowds, which should be avoided, but they are nearly impossible to keep clean and sanitized. If a child touches and contaminates the equipment, the virus can live long enough for another child to spread it to themselves by touching the equipment, then their mouth, eyes, or nose.
Stay with ONLY the people you live with, and bring your face masks.
Another recommendation by the CDC is to plan outings with only your family or the people you are living with and no one else. Face coverings or masks should be used if you go to a place where social distancing rules can be hard to maintain, like narrow bike paths or hiking trails. However, while we don’t want to walk through a cloud of someone’s cough or sneeze, being outside seems to be safer than being inside if folks maintain the six feet away rule. Two studies, one in China and one in Japan, both showed that the odds of transmission of COVID-19 is significantly lower in open-air spaces.
As the weather continues to warm up and we all get increasingly antsy to leave our four walls, staying at home doesn’t seem sustainable for much longer. But differentiating between low-risk and high-risk situations (i.e., casual, six-feet-apart interaction in outdoor spaces versus a crowded house party), and choosing the least-risky scenarios, can make a difference in relieving the “quarantine fatigue” we’re feeling. And for some people, Harvard Medical School professor Julia Marcus wrote for The Atlantic, “the low risk of coronavirus transmission in these settings may be outweighed by the health benefits of human connection, exercise, and being outdoors.”
I am grateful for our ability to get outside. We need to move our bodies, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the benefits of green spaces. My saving grace through this pandemic has been my commitment to go for walks, runs, and mini CrossFit workouts in the backyard. And as much as they hate to put on pants, once my kids are out of the house I can see how content and happy they are in open fields, finding rocks, climbing on trees and playing on secluded river banks (the CDC doesn’t have evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through water). Getting outside allows us to escape from reality and reconnect with each other. We ignore each other a little too, and that is just as valuable.
You can safely get outside with your family, it just takes a little preparation. Decide where you want to go, see if it’s open and know that if you get there and see crowds, you will need to find another spot. Even though you are outside, maintain six feet between people who don’t live with you; don’t touch equipment, trail signs, or your face; and wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible. And plan on peeing in the woods because very few restroom facilities are open.
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