Just because we’re being asked to stay at home doesn’t mean you can never go outside. Essential trips such as to the grocery store or pharmacy are still allowed, as is non-group exercise such as walking, running, and biking.
But what, some people have asked us, about places that are outdoors but at home: Can I hang out in the backyard? Can I tend to my garden? What about doing some exercise in the front yard?
Yes, experts said, it’s perfectly acceptable to go into your backyard or similar outdoor area. Just make sure you follow some basic precautions.
“Yes! Go into your backyard,” said Jayatri Das, chief bioscientist at the Franklin Institute.
Research has documented that going outside and doing physical activity has a number of health benefits. Being able to go outside can be particularly important at a time when people are cooped up at home, isolated from others and moving a lot less than normal.
“Being outside, especially in the spring when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, that is good for our mental health," Das said. “That’s important, too.”
The key is to maintain physical distance from others and minimize exposure to the coronavirus. So a private space can be a great, safe way to reap the benefits of being outside.
Das and other experts said you should think about the environment to make sure you won’t be near other people. “Keep that physical distance,” Das said.
The coronavirus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets, such as from coughing, sneezing, and talking, which is why person-to-person contact is risky.
Staying six feet away from others — “social distancing” — works because those droplets fall to the ground. The air itself does not seem to be a real risk, since the virus doesn’t stay suspended in the air except in very specific circumstances, such as some hospital activities.
That means it’s generally safe to be outside and breathe in fresh air, as long as you aren’t close enough to someone to come in contact with their respiratory droplets.
So just think about the environment and what you’ll be doing. Maybe an enclosed backyard where you’re not right next to your neighbor is fine, but gardening at the edge of your front yard would put you right next to people walking by on the sidewalk. If you’re sitting in your backyard just a few feet away from your neighbors sitting in their backyard, you should probably move over a little bit, or pick a different time to go outside.
Similarly, if it’s a shared space with other people, or you come in contact with common surfaces on your way out there — touching door knobs and hallway light switches, say — make sure you’re practicing proper hand hygiene.
Taking a moment to think it through is a good idea, experts said, but don’t twist yourself into knots thinking about hypothetical situations. Remember to avoid getting too close to others. Don’t touch your face. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
“Just to be connected with the earth, and environment, and greenery — get outside, you know?” said Judith J. Lightfoot, chief of infectious disease at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. “But respect the boundaries and the space for now.”