Is it safe to go swimming, on the beach or in a park? A doctor offers guidance as coronavirus spacing measures are raised

Is it safe to go swimming, on the beach or in a park? A doctor offers guidance as coronavirus spacing measures are raised
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(CNN) – Even if we have run away from getting sick with the coronavirus, we are all tired of staying at home, practicing social issues and wearing masks. While the case numbers and deaths for Covid-19 are tending to fall, this is not the time to drop our guard. These are not ordinary days. These new days invite us to make decisions with limited and evolving information. Coronavirus is still in circulation.

As a doctor who has practiced for over 30 years, I am faced with decisions about safe outdoor recreation with a little trepidation. The decision whether to go to the beach, swimming pool or in a park was previously quite simple – now, not so much.

On the one hand, there is too much information, some of which is in conflict and many are infused with political ideology. On the other, information is missing: the “novel” in the coronavirus novel means that it is new and there is a lot we don’t know. Although it remains true as always that there are enormous benefits in going out these days, it is also true that there are risks for you and others in doing so.

A woman sunbathes in Huntington Beach, California on April 25, 2020.

A woman sunbathes in Huntington Beach, California on April 25, 2020.

APU GOMES / AFP via Getty Images

How to decide if you and your loved ones can go hiking, beaches or swimming? Let’s start with some facts that we actually know. We know that the virus can be transported asymptomatically and we know there are people at disproportionate risk of serious complications.

We scientists and doctors still don’t know if having antibodies is indicative of immunity, so a positive antibody test doesn’t mean you’re good at running without risk. We know that the number of viral particles you are exposed to and the duration of exposure are vital factors that determine the risk of transmission.

Furthermore, at least one pre-printed study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that the risk of external exposure is much lower than the internal one.

But I want to be out

Now that almost all states have reopened, to varying degrees, it is important to remember that the virus is still out there. The risks of getting infected when passing by a runner or cyclist quickly enough are not terribly high, at least in the absence of sneezing or coughing, and are even lower at a distance. Solitary activities transmit less particles than team sports or horse games in the pool.

Going alone or alone with people in the quarantine bubble will minimize the risk. Proximity to people outside the bubble means that you should wear a mask to protect others.

The quarantine bubble is a shortcut for a small group of friends with whom you could choose to be together with those who have followed the guidelines on social distancing and who you know healthy. The security of your bubble, however, is only as valid as the agreement between members to follow safety precautions outside the bubble.

Look at the logistics of your plan. It is worth dividing the planned activity down to the basic steps.

How will you get there? Remember, public transportation and air travel are still high risk. And, if you’re driving on the highway or interstate, remember that you may need to stop for bathroom breaks. In the spirit of “better safe than sorry”, if you travel long distances by car, bring your food and water and a hygiene kit containing wipes, paper towels, travel soap and disinfectant.

What will I need while I’m there? Consider the need for bathroom breaks, food and water, your ability to wash your hands and keep your distance. The bathrooms and changing rooms are full of “high touch” surfaces and, while definitive information is lacking, the first tests demonstrate the persistence of the virus on the surfaces. You should treat public restrooms as high-risk areas and keep in mind that many may not even be open.

Once at your destination, remember the basics of coronavirus.

• Maintain a distance of at least six feet.

• Wash and disinfect your hands often – and certainly after touching any shared surface.

• Keep your hands away from your face.

• Wear a mask.

• If you are in a park, walk or hike on a single file and leave room for others to walk a safe distance.

• Consider going to off-peak times and less popular locations.

• If you go to the beach, you must still wear a mask. And keep your distance.

• If you go to the swimming pool, keep in mind that although there is no evidence of diffusion through the treated water according to the recommendations, the common areas require removal, masks and other normal precautions.

Remember the real estate adage “location, location, location”. The prevalence of the virus and the slope – regardless of whether the cases increase or decrease – in your area matter. Also, the availability of tests and hospital beds in your area are aspects to consider.

You should consider the regulations and laws of your area, understanding that they may not reflect public health guidelines. If in doubt, err on the side of the protection.

Factors beyond your control

Finally, there is the joker to understand what the people around you will do to protect you while you decide how to protect yourself, your loved ones and them. Will they respect your space and wear masks? The final word on outdoor recreation? Sure, get out and be active. It is important for your mental and physical health. Choose wisely, prepare and stay safe.

Claudia Finkelstein is an associate professor of family medicine at Michigan State University.

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