The first day of spring is upon us. The weather forecasts are full of beautiful warm weather.
But in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, we’ve been instructed to stay home. Health officials are hoping that social distancing helps flatten the curve so fewer people will need treatment at the same time. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can return to life as we know it sooner rather than later.
Now, we’re all wondering: Can we go outside? Can we go for a run? Can we walk the dog? We spoke to local health experts on how to social distance safely outdoors as the weather warms up and the cabin fever gets real.
The good news, said Dr. David C. Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department, is that we don’t have to stay inside. “Not going outside can really start to affect our mental health,” Damsker said. Here’s how to do it safely.
Can I go outside?
Yes, we encourage people to still go outside, said Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. It’s not healthy to stay in all day. However, Wardle said, it’s important to practice social distancing while out. That means staying six feet away from people, so even if you cross paths with someone who has been exposed to the coronavirus, you won’t be caught by a wayward cough or a sudden sneeze.
How much time can I spend outside?
You can’t set that in hours or minutes, said Damsker. If want to be outside 24 hours a day you can, as long as you are doing so safely. That means social distancing, washing your hands often or using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol, especially if you inadvertently touch something.
Can I sit on a bench in my neighborhood park?
You don’t want to put any part of your body — including your bum — on high-touch areas, said Dr. Heather Ruddock, a pediatrician at Advocare West Deptford Pediatrics. If you do lean on a pole or rest your hand on a ledge, don’t touch your face, Ruddock stressed. Carry some hand sanitizer or a few Clorox sheets with you in a plastic bag so you can wipe your hands immediately. And if you have to sit down on a bench, make sure it’s unoccupied so you can keep the proper 6-feet distance away, Wardle added.
What if I want to take a run with a friend? I’m getting lonely.
That’s fine, said Ruddock, who is a runner herself. But you want to make sure that you take these runs, hikes, and walks, in spaces where staying 6 feet away is easily achievable. That means the Schuylkill Banks are probably not your best bet. And, if someone does cross your path, just jog around them. “You don’t have to be rude,” Damsker said.
Is it safe to go for a drive?
I wouldn’t go for a drive with a family member that has been quarantined or who is sick, Damsker said. But yes, it’s safe to go for a drive. This is also a time, Wardle says, that you might want to drive with your windows up. Self-care tip: Keep some hand sanitizer or hand wipes in your car. When you get in the car, rub your hands down and the steering wheel.
Can I grill outside with friends, since the weather is so nice? What about Sunday dinner?
If you are having dinner with people who have been in your home this entire time, yes, Damsker said. However, Wardle added, it’s best not to meet up with friends at this time. “We encourage people to use virtual means of connecting, such as texting, calling, video calls, etc.” Wardle said.
What about my pets? Do I need to socially distance from them? Should they social distance from each other? Can they go outside?
There is no evidence that we have to interact differently with our pets, Damsker said. And yes, you can still take them out on regular walks, even if they run into another four-legged friend. According to the CDC website, in the U.S., there is no evidence to suggest that animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of the coronavirus at this time.
What about outdoor playdates with the kiddies?
This is a time for virtual playdates only, Ruddock said.
I want to go outside, but I have anxiety about it.
Remember the problem is about being in crowds, said Dr. Krys Foster, family physician at Jefferson Hospital, who is urging her patients to have some semblance of normalcy, so going outside is key. Use this time to get away from people and explore nature. And take your hand sanitizer with you. If the anxiety is too much, try downloading a meditation app; if you’re concerned about your anxiety, talk to your doctor.
What happens if there’s a shelter-in-place order?
If a shelter-in-place order is issued, it would depend on what the order looks like, but, Wardle said, people would likely be able to be outside on their property. But if things get so bad and we are forced to stay inside, Ruddock said, open the windows for that daily dose of Vitamin D. “It’s important we let the sunshine in, it’s one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves. Self-care is key right now."