In the time of COVID-19: the outdoors remains open, but with precautions

One of the advantages of living in New Haven is that our nearby parks are expansive woodlands. East Rock Park is actually in town, West Rock Park is about 3 miles away, and Sleeping Giant State Park is a 9-mile ride along a paved bike path. So between keeping up with work and the COVID-19 situation, I’ve been biking to local parks nearly every day.

Most times the park has been empty or nearly empty. This may have something to do with me usually showing up just before dusk because of work. But a couple of times I have noticed parking lots overflowing with cars, which isn’t a good sign for social distancing. It’s not that the closely-parked cars necessarily represent a failure of social distancing (though one could argue it does, given what we know about the aerosol and surface stability of the virus — ick). But it means that sticking to the guidelines that will help us beat this pandemic are much harder. Or worse, that some people are ignoring these guidelines entirely and hiking together in groups — which, if you’re doing this, you’re going to spread COVID-19 and people are going to die.

So yes, the outdoors is still open during the pandemic and is a great way to de-stress! But follow some common-sense guidelines while you’re out there, adapted from CT COVID-19 Park Guidelines:

  1. Hike alone* or with roommates, NOT folks outside your home group. The goal is to not spread the virus, so only hike with people you’re already exposed to during this state-of-emergency. Yes, that means if you don’t live with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend, DON’T INVITE THEM. Does that suck? Yes. Is it for a good cause? YES, and you can always share photos and talk about it later on video chat.
  2. Stay 12 feet away from others on the trail. I know most people have been saying 6 feet, with 12 feet if someone is sneezing or coughing, but if you have the open space why risk it?
  3. Don’t travel too far to get outside. I don’t have a specific distance, but wouldn’t recommend traveling more than 15 – 20 miles. The idea is that we don’t want to spread the virus further, and you could either transmit it or pick it up from a new area if you’re going several towns over to get outside. Combine this with the fact that many parks have closed their amenities (including restrooms) and a nearby local trip is a much healthier and happier bet.
  4. Pack it in, pack it out. This is already a standard trail rule but is more important than ever because trash could transmit the virus. It could have viral particles from saliva, or from someone’s hands, or aerosolized droplets from a sneeze. You don’t want to expose others to the virus, including park rangers and staff who have to empty the trash bins! Take your trash home with you and throw it in your own bin to be safest.
  5. When in doubt, don’t go out. If you’re feeling a little bit sick, STAY HOME. You could still spread the virus to others on the hiking trail or make yourself worse and require hospitalization. Eat, sleep and rest; the outdoors will still be there tomorrow or next week.

So if you’re going stir-crazy, go outside. Just remember that fighting the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t stop at the front door.

* If you’re going alone, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back in case of emergency.

And as a thank-you for reading through all of that, here are some shots from my solo hikes this week:

West Rock Ridge, West Rock Park
West Rock Ridge, West Rock Park
The cliff at the giant’s head, Sleeping Giant State Park
Some remnants of buildings, Sleeping Giant State Park
Sunset, Sleeping Giant State Park
View of New Haven from East Rock Park
View from the Blue Trail up to the giant’s head, Sleeping Giant State Park
A tree along the Blue Trail
In other news, my phone camera can capture VENUS!

UPDATED: A game to help combat the coronavirus epidemic

UPDATE 2020/03/11: Since I posted this, many workplaces have asked asked employees to work from home when possible. Updated the game to reflect that.

We interrupt your (ir)regularly scheduled posts to bring you something that YOU can do to combat the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19). If you’re anything like me, you probably feel helpless watching the COVID-19 epidemic unfold because there isn’t much you can do to contribute to the fight. Unfortunately, that helplessness combined with the intense desire to do something leads to bad results — all that energy has to go somewhere (see: brawls over toilet paper, stock market drops, and $350 hand sanitizer)

So here’s a game you can play that will do good, effective things to fight the coronavirus:

+5 points each time you wash your hands with soap and water while singing/narrating to yourself the intro to your favorite show. No, hand sanitizer does not count, because it turns out to be less effective against the virus.

+1 point each time you call/text your friends and family who are most at risk (over 70, already have an illness like diabetes or cancer), remind them that you love them and that they should stay home, and see if they need anything sent to them while you’re at it. Each person only counts once a week, because you don’t want to be annoying.

+1 point each time you cough or sneeze into your elbow.

+1 point each time you redirect a person with misinformation to more accurate information while being nice about it (so you don’t get to call them a dumbass). Try the following, ordered from least to most technical:

+50 points if you’re feeling sick and stay home.

+50 points for the day if you work from home.

-1 point each time you touch your face (without having washed your hands with soap and water immediately before). This is overwhelmingly where your points will disappear so try hard!

-1 point each time you cough or sneeze and it’s not into your elbow.

-10 points every time you panic buy something.

At the end of every day, tally up your points to see how well you did. Try to do better each day. Share this with friends and compete with them to get the highest score! And feel confident that you’re doing something that actually works to fight the coronavirus and stop a pandemic.


P.S. For those of you who are thinking “everyone can and should do all of these things not during an epidemic,” I hear what you are saying and you’re technically correct. But it’s also good to remind people of what they can do to actually help. And anything we can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 matters in not overloading our healthcare system.