(CNN) – Even if we escape getting sick from the coronavirus, we are all tired of staying home, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. While Covid-19 case numbers and deaths are trending down, this is not the time to let down our guard. These are not ordinary days. These novel days call us to make decisions with limited and evolving information. The coronavirus continues to circulate.
As a physician who has practiced for over 30 years, I find myself facing decisions about safe outdoor recreation with some concern. The decision on whether to go to a beach, a pool or a park was previously quite simple, now, not so much.
On the one hand, there is too much information, some of which is conflicting and much of it is steeped in political ideology. On the other hand, there is a lack of information: the “novel” in the new coronavirus means that it is new and there are many things that we do not know. While it is still as true as ever that there are tremendous benefits to going outside these days, it is also true that there are risks to you and others doing so.
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, beach or swimming? Let’s start with some facts that we really know. We know that the virus can be transmitted asymptomatically, and we know that there are people with a disproportionately high risk of serious complications.
Scientists and doctors don’t yet know if having antibodies is indicative of immunity, so a positive antibody test doesn’t mean it’s good to go safe. We know that the amount of virus particles to which you are exposed and the duration of exposure are vital factors that determine the risk of transmission.
In addition, at least one prepress study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that the risk of outdoor exposure is much lower than that of indoors.
Visitors wear face masks in Joshua Tree National Park in California on May 18, 2020. It is still important to wear masks and stay at least six feet away.
Mario Tama / Getty Images
But I want to be outside
Now that almost all states have reopened, to varying degrees, it is important to remember that the virus is still present. The risks of becoming infected when passing a runner or cyclist fairly quickly 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 with people in your quarantine bubble will minimize your risk. Proximity to people outside your bubble means that you must wear a mask appropriately to protect others.
The quarantine bubble is short for a small group of friends you can choose to meet with and who have followed the guidelines for social distancing and who you know are healthy. However, the security of their bubble is as good as the agreement between members to follow security precautions outside the bubble.
Look at the logistics of your plan. It is worth dividing your planned activity into basic steps.
How will you get there? Remember, public transportation and air travel remain high risk. And, if you are driving on the highway or interstate, remember that you may need to stop to take a bath. In the spirit of “prevention is better than cure”, if you travel long distances by car, bring your own food and water, as well as 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. Bathrooms and locker rooms are littered with “high contact” surfaces, and although definitive information is lacking, preliminary evidence demonstrates the persistence of the virus on surfaces. You should treat public restrooms as high-risk areas and keep in mind that many may not even be open.
A sink in a bathroom in Allen, Texas on May 1, 2020 is closed to force social distancing.
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
Once at your destination, remember the basics of coronavirus.
• Keep a distance of at least six feet.
• Wash and disinfect your hands frequently, and definitely after touching any shared surface.
• Keep your hands away from your face.
• Wear a mask.
• If you are in a park, walk or walk a single row and leave room for others to pass a safe distance.
• Consider going outside of peak hours and to less popular places.
• If you go to the beach, you still need to wear a mask. And keep your distance.
• If you go to the pool, remember that although there is no evidence of spreading through the water that has been treated as recommended, common areas require spacing, masks, and other common precautions.
Remember the real estate adage “location, location, location”. Virus prevalence and slope, whether cases increase or decrease, are important in your area. Also, the availability of tests and hospital beds in your area are aspects to consider.
You should be aware of the regulations and laws in your area, understanding that they may not reflect public health guidelines. When in doubt, err on the side of protection.
Factors beyond your control
Finally, there is the wild card of figuring out what the people around you will do to protect you as you decide how you will protect yourself, your loved ones, and themselves. Will they respect your space and wear masks? The last word on outdoor recreation? Of course, get out and stay active. It is important for your mental and physical health. But, choose wisely, get ready and stay safe.
Claudia Finkelstein is an associate professor of family medicine at Michigan State University.