When the legendary CBS broadcaster Charles Kuralt wrote his book, “America,” a love letter to this country, he traveled across the nation and spent a month in each of his 12 favorite places, from Alaska to Key West. He spent March in Charleston.
But anyone who has lived here doesn’t need Mr. Kuralt to tell us this is the most spectacular time of the year to be outside. Temperatures are mild, humidity is low, bugs are at a minimum, and blooms are near their peak. Even with the dramatic new realities facing us with COVID-19, we don’t have to stop enjoying this.
We just have to enjoy it responsibly.
As the number of coronavirus cases climbs, and government officials at all levels scramble to respond, the messaging has been evolving day to day. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission had been keeping its parks open, but the agency changed its position by Friday morning. David Bennett, the PRC’s director, said while parks are an essential service, “we currently cannot meet our standards of providing a clean and safe visitor and staff environment,” adding the parks have had a high volume of visitors.
A surge in visitors and gatherings on beaches also prompted Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms on Friday to restrict access to their islands and beaches during daylight hours. Gov. Henry McMaster also ordered police to disperse crowds on state beaches. Meanwhile, most city parks (but not indoor recreation or senior centers) remain open.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website appears largely silent on the question of getting outside for exercise during this pandemic, but it’s easy to find older, pre-COVID-19 statements such as, “Physical Activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health.”
We can’t disagree with that. For most of us facing the prospect of being cooped up in our homes for weeks, maybe longer, the possibility of taking a walk or run or bike ride will loom as an increasingly important anecdote to cabin fever. Such activity still has important health benefits, even in the time of coronavirus.
Michael Schmidt, a microbiology and immunology professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the outdoors often is safer than the indoors. “There’s nothing wrong with getting a little fresh air and being outside. You’re perfectly safe as long as you keep your social distance,” Dr. Schmidt tells us.
That’s a point to remember as people try to adapt to the new normal.
New York Times journalist Gretchen Reynolds recently wrote about the benefits of exercising outside, even in these uncertain times. Even in a major city where public activity has been limited, San Francisco, its county health department says people can get out of their homes “to engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with social distancing requirements as defined in this section,” meaning they have to stay 6 feet away from others.
With that in mind, here are some other tips to keep yourself and others safe while enjoying the outdoors:
• Seek out less crowded paths or areas. Definitely avoid any gathering of 10 or more.
• Bring your own water. There’s no good data on how long COVID-19 can linger on water fountains, so don’t chance it.
• Avoid touching surfaces, especially those others might touch (park railings, playground equipment, etc.) or wear gloves.
• Leave your shoes by the door on your return home as a hygiene precaution.
• Limit how much you go outdoors just like you should try to limit the number of times you go to the grocery store.
In short, getting out carries minimal risk and potentially big benefits, as long as you don’t run out of common sense.