Physician assistant Jenna Gigliotti: How to enjoy the outdoors safely while social distancing 

  • Adjoining plots meet with a line of daffodils and a pair of espalier fruit trees at the Northampton Community Gardens on Burts Pit Road on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 5/26/2020 7:57:48 AM

Cabin fever is setting in as the weather warms up, and we are still facing a pandemic and stay-at-home recommendations. But the good news is, that doesn’t mean you need to stay inside — we recommend the opposite. We want you to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine!

Recent studies have shown COVID-19 transmission is far more likely in confined, indoor spaces rather than open, outdoor spaces. Warmer weather and exposure to sunlight help reduce the time the virus survives on surfaces and objects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while wind can help dilute it. And enjoying nature is great for our mental health. Here are our recommendations for safely enjoying the outdoors while maintaining physical distancing:

■Enjoy bonfires, picnics, small gatherings* to watch the sunset, etc. Just maintain 6 feet of distance from others at all times, and wear a mask if you are closer than that. Do not share any food, beverages or serving utensils — bring your own! And please do not go into other people’s houses.

■Go for a walk or hike, and stay 6 feet apart from anyone not in your home (or homestead). Wear a mask if you are walking on a narrow trail where you cannot stay 6 feet apart. If you are walking with only members of your homestead, you do not have to wear a mask the whole time. But definitely bring a mask with you, and put it on as you approach and pass by any other humans. 

■Get used to carrying a face covering. There’s no need to wear a mask if running or cycling alone when not in a public space; just have one handy in case of close contact. 

As it continues to get even warmer, these recommendations apply to the water, too:

■Maintain at least 6 feet of distance from anyone not in your homestead while in a pool, lake or ocean. Coronaviruses typically are not stable in water and are inactivated by chlorine. Avoid using your hands to touch shared surfaces in and near the water when safe and possible.

■Avoid touching any shared surfaces: benches, playground equipment, trail maps, crosswalk buttons (use your elbow!), Frisbees, basketballs, etc. But if you want to throw a ball or Frisbee with a friend from more than 6 feet apart, be sure to keep your hands off your face and don’t snack or touch your phone. Then disinfect your hands when done before touching your face, your phone or eating/drinking.

■As always, remember: Don’t touch your face! And bring some hand sanitizer just in case. It’s wise to always bring a mask, even if you don’t think you will need it. Stash some extras in your car, backpack, etc., in case a friend forgets. 

■When you can’t go out, bring the outside in: Sit near an open window if possible to enjoy fresh air, a breeze and some sunshine.

■Try your hand at gardening to brighten up your indoor and outdoor spaces and grow your own food! Herbs, tomatoes, greens and more do really well in containers on windowsills or porches, small raised beds or larger backyard plots if you have the space!

*Consult the latest state Department of Public Health guidelines or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 resources for up-to-date guidance on gatherings. These recommendations change frequently, particularly with respect to size of gatherings. Visit our Atkinson Family Practice COVID-19 page frequently for more helpful suggestions!

Jenna Gigliotti, PA-C, MPAS is a physician assistant at Atkinson Family Practice (AFP), where she provides holistic primary care in a collaborative medical home, and teaches lifestyle medicine and plant-based cooking classes. AFP does our best to keep up to date with current medical knowledge on the coronavirus and is actively working to interpret the information in ways that will be helpful to our patients. We think it is possible for people to be active outdoors during the pandemic. The views expressed here are those of the providers at AFP. We are not speaking on behalf of any affiliated medical organizations.
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