As Californians continue to shelter in place, many are heeding the call of the great outdoors, especially with spring weather. But how do you do so safely, and still maintain social distancing?

Maintain six feet from others while outside.
Maintain six feet from others while outside.

Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, recently answered some questions about how to safely navigate the outdoors. 

Q: Is it safe for us to be spending time outdoors during this pandemic?

A: Yes, it’s okay to be outside. One of the great things about being outside is that the virus is more quickly diluted and so less infectious than inside, where air volume is more limited. In winter, we have more transmission of respiratory viruses because people are crowded together inside. As long as we maintain a distance from people who may be potentially infectious, there should be low risk of infection.

Q: What are some basic ground rules for spending time outside?

A: We definitely don’t want to be crowding onto the beaches as we have seen many people do. Social distancing is key. Make sure you are up to date on state and local regulations during COVID-19. Do you need to wear masks outdoors? Are local parks closed? These may be different, county by county. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend using playgrounds or water playgrounds. And now also is not the time to play any contact sports.

Q: How much distance should we stay away from others while outside?

A: COVID-19 is primarily transmitted via the respiratory route through droplet transmission. These are relatively large droplets so when you cough or sneeze, they fall to the ground. They are heavy enough that gravity takes over and aren’t suspended in the air. Generally, these droplets will travel about three feet. With a forceful cough or sneeze or a powerful wind, maybe they will go as far as six feet. If you stay greater than six feet apart from others, the virus is highly unlikely to be transmitted through droplet.

COVID-19 can also be transmitted by contact. If you contaminate a surface by coughing or sneezing on it, that will be potentially infectious to others who touch it. After touching park benches, for example, you will want to wash hands afterwards and ensure you don’t touch your face.  

Q: What are your recommendations for runners?

A: When I am on the bike trail and see someone coming toward me on my side, I cross over to the other side to maintain that six feet of distance when passing. If there are some areas that are narrow, you should judge when it is best to cross over to maintain that distance.

One of the benefits of being on the bike trail is that people using it are generally healthy. You aren’t going to have disease symptoms like coughing or sneezing and then go running (hopefully!). That being said, it doesn’t mean that a virus can’t be transmitted when symptoms are not present. There can be asymptomatic transfer that occurs even just by speaking, so it’s best to maintain that six feet of separation.