I wrote this in response to my own questions about social distancing while still getting out for walks. But I feel the need to add an addendum here. People are feeling so cooped up and people are not at work — the combination has led people to take to the trail at times in more numbers than usual. If you plan to take your hike, but then find that your local park is so crowded that you really cannot practice social distancing, go elsewhere where you can stay the recommended 6′ away from other people.

When social distancing was just at its beginning, I went out for a photo walk and ended up taking a longer hike than expected. My hike took me up a stairway where I found I guy getting exercise by running up and down the steps. The stairway was wide — but the width put us, perhaps at 3′ apart, not 6′. Don’t put yourself in an area where you’ll find it impossible to distance.

When I first posted this, a reader on Facebook also offered a plea for people not to flee to rural areas to hike alone when that rural area may have limited healthcare resources that it needs for its own residents. I’ve noted on Facebook a “rally” (not a group one) with people holding up signs saying the Olympic Peninsula is CLOSED. While that seems sad, it’s necessary. The stores in rural places may have limited stock and if everyone starts flocking to campgrounds — even though it seems that the campgrounds are far apart enough to allow social distancing — it may be hard to actually do in practice.

And, as usual, this post may contain affiliate links. Not because I added any in this post but because I use a service that (sometimes) adds this in. That just means that if you click a link that is an affiliate link and then make a subsequent purchase I may get a small commission. Hey, this website needs funds so I can keep writing it.

Here’s the original post:

“This is the antidote, isn’t it?” said a woman, smiling to me as she passed on the trail — while keeping a 6′ distance. While I wish getting outside were the antidote to COVID-19, for many of us getting outside is the antidote to anxiety or depression. So, it’s ironic, that during this time of increased anxiety facing the unknown with the multi-factor storm of illness, job loss, financial downturn, travel bans we are being asked to “shelter in place.”

But this “sheltering in place” is important — not only to keep yourself and your family healthy, but to protect those who might be less capable than us of recovering if they do get ill and to help mitigate the strain on our healthcare resources this crisis is causing.

“Sheltering in place,” sounds kind of frightening. I’m listening to the news this morning and I keep hearing New York governor Cuomo say that this was a term used to describe what people should do in case of a nuclear accident — go inside, into a windowless room, stay in until further notice.

While the term doesn’t truly describe what we currently are required to do — I prefer the term “social distancing” instead — the important thing is keeping a distance from people outside your immediate household and practicing safer health procedures such as frequent hand washing — I’ve encountered some confusion about whether it’s OK to get outside for a while to help boost your health and mental well-being.

And right now, at this time the answer is “Yes. If.” Yes, you can get outside if:

  • You go alone or with people from your household that you’re regularly in contact with anyway.
  • You keep at least a 6′ distance from other people you encounter. This isn’t just to protect you, it’s to protect people you come into contact with in case you might be a carrier and not know it.
  • You continue to use good health hygiene practices.
  • You are feeling well, the people in your household are well, and you haven’t had known contact with anyone who’s infected.

But don’t go out if:

  • Your plan is to have a group playdate or meetup. I saw playdate groups at the local playground during my hike. This is not what is meant by social distancing.
  • You want to reconsider if you are in a group that is at higher risk for complications if you get the illness.
  • You are feeling ill yourself. While the 6′ or more distance is supposed to help prevent social spread, why take a chance?

Personally, while I normally don’t do multi-day hikes anyway, I’m mostly staying home at this point, and occasionally going for a day hike as necessary. I’d reconsider camping or multi-day hikes at this point — why take the risk?

This was written/updated on March 19, 2020. Stay up to date by referring to authoritative sources such as the CDC website, your local health and government agencies for current policies in your area.

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