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Your Guide to Outdoor Recreation During Social Distancing


August 5, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health, Travel Tips

Outdoor recreation has been the saving grace during the coronavirus pandemic. With stay-at-home orders, work-from-home requests and the resulting anxiety, there’s nothing like spending time with Mother Nature to lift your spirits and lower your stress. And if you’re outside getting exercise, your health benefits just doubled.

Although there is less risk of COVID-19 contagion during outdoor recreation, there are still health, safety and planning considerations for you and others in your small group.

An infectious disease epidemiologist suggests considering three factors:

  • How many people will be there?
  • How close is the contact?
  • How long will you be exposed to other people?

“Outdoor activities have a lower risk of coronavirus exposure than indoor activities,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue. “By avoiding the three Cs — confined spaces, crowds and close contact — you dramatically reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus.”

Low-risk summer activities are anything outdoors and alone (or with immediate family). Even then, Global Rescue experts suggest using the same rules and safety guidelines for travel and apply them to outdoor summer recreation.

“Don’t relax your safety precautions just because you are outside,” said Jeffrey Weinstein, medical operations supervisor at Global Rescue.

To ensure you stay healthy during your time outdoors, Global Rescue has compiled safety suggestions for surfers, swimmers, boaters, runners, climbers and motorcyclists.

Safety While Surfing

The Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, held every August in Huntington Beach, California, was cancelled this year. It’s not the water that’s a threat to surfers though, as studies show coronavirus is not transmitted through water, whether it is chlorinated, fresh or salt water. Rather, it’s the crowds on the beach posing the threat to surfers.

In response, beaches across the globe have either closed or opened with their own set of restrictions. In California, beach closings and restrictions are common. According to The New York Times, some beaches in Australia have been closed for weeks while others have reopened on weekdays for water sports only. 

“These restrictions are all constantly changing so be sure to subscribe to Global Rescue’s Coronavirus Report and check local beach/state information before making plans,” Weinstein said.

Swimming in Recreational Waters

If you want to go into the water — pool, lake or ocean — the good news is there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of recreational waters, according to the CDC.

In a New York Times interview, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a Columbia University virologist, said being in water outdoors is a likely good place to be these days.

“In my opinion, pool water, freshwater in a lake or river, or seawater exposure would be extremely low transmission risk even without dilution (which would reduce risk further),” Rasmussen said. “Probably the biggest risk for summer water recreation is crowds — a crowded pool locker room, dock or beach, especially if coupled with limited physical distancing or prolonged proximity to others. The most concentrated sources of virus in such an environment will be the people hanging out at the pool, not the pool itself.”

It’s a good reminder: Although you may be keeping yourself safe, not everyone is abiding by the rules.

“Travelers should expect other travelers to not follow the appropriate precautions,” Weinstein said. “Do your due diligence and plan your safety strategies for communal areas.”

The Well-being of Water Sports

Boating, sailing and fishing are all great outdoor activities during the pandemic but, again, you’ll want to avoid crowded recreational areas. Groups of people increase the likelihood of transmission and freshwater recreational areas (such as lakes and ponds) may pose a slight risk.

If you’re launching or fishing from a public dock, you will want to avoid high-touch areas, such as ladders, mooring poles and hand rails.

“Be wary of frequently touched surfaces,” said Jacqueline Sioson, operations supervisor at Global Rescue.

Social distancing guidelines will still be important, even in the great outdoors. Maintain distance at boat ramps and fuel docks (avoid using either if other people are there). You should also only boat with those in your immediate household.

Fishing on land? Use your fishing rod as a natural measure for social distance. Fishing rods measure anywhere from two to eight feet. Fly rods are typically a bit longer, measuring between six and 10 feet. Bring your own tackle boxes and coolers to limit communal contact.

Social Distancing While Running, Biking and Walking

If you are running, walking or biking with someone, maintain six feet of distance.

Maintaining appropriate social distance might be easy to do in a rural area but it’s not as simple on a metropolitan bike path.

Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics details how to share outdoor space responsibly: “If you’re behind someone who is walking, running or biking, the guidelines are a little different. A preliminary study by aerodynamicists using simulations of micro droplets in saliva left behind by a walker, runner and cyclist shows that your best bet is to stay out of the slipstream, also known as their draft.”

To do so, you’ll need to keep a distance of about five yards between you and someone walking ahead of you, about 10 yards between you and someone running ahead of you and a staggering 20 yards between you and someone cycling ahead of you.

If you don’t have that much space, consider staggering your position and following diagonally instead of directly. If you need to pass them (or they need to pass you), you should still offset your position and increase the distance between you as much as space allows.

Take Care While Climbing

Climbing isn’t a high risk coronavirus-infection activity, but the pandemic has made safety all the more important. Why? Less access and less help if you need it.

Trails, facilities and ranger stations may be closed due to COVID-19.

According to the Boulder (Colorado) Climbing Community, “this pandemic has put enormous strain on our local land managers. Many of them are being asked to handle higher than usual visitation rates while having fewer staff and resources. They are constantly having to evaluate restricting access as a management tool. It is paramount that climbers follow all rules and guidelines set by land managers to ensure access is not jeopardized.”

Do your research before heading out on your next adventure. The National Park Service provides a searchable map of parks open to the public. You will want to make sure you have cell phone coverage or a satellite phone to call for help.

Better yet, consider a travel protection services membership. One Global Rescue member was injured on a holiday weekend climb in the United States and the ranger station was closed due to COVID-19. His friend was able to call Global Rescue who facilitated his medical evacuation with local authorities.

The Access Fund, a climbing advocacy community, suggests “dialing it back a notch for the sake of our search and rescue teams.” They also advise:

  • Climbing close to home
  • Limiting group size
  • Maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask when others are in proximity
  • Washing hands before and after climbing
  • Bailing on busy crags

Mapping a Motorcycle Safety Plan

The call of the open road lures motorcyclists out of their homes and on their bikes. With little to no traffic on the roads and highways, now is a great time to enjoy an adventure ride. Even American Motorcycle Association sanctioned-events have returned, albeit without spectators.

Driving is safer than flying and when you are in your car, you are able to make the rules to protect yourself and your passengers from coronavirus contagion. On your motorcycle, most likely, it will be just you following the rules.

  • Bikers should keep their helmet and gloves on during the ride and on any stops. Be sure to wipe them down after gassing up and at the end of the day.
  • If you wear a bandana or balaclava while riding, continue to do so. It will save you the stress of putting on and taking off a face mask during stops/breaks.
  • Don’t wear a helmet if it has been cracked or shows signs of wear. Helmets should be Department of Transportation approved (usually with a DOT sticker on the back) and not older than five years.
  • Countries have varying rules and regulations. In England, motorcyclists should not ride in groups or congregate at single spots, making sure to practice social distancing. It’s also advised not to ride across Scottish and Welsh borders if you don’t know the rules.
  • The same social distancing guidelines and location restriction research hold true for domestic travel. American Motorcyclist magazine updates a monthly list of state and local bills, grants, openings and closings.

The Plus of Travel Protection Services

No matter where you enjoy your outdoor recreation — at home, close to home or far away — be sure to do your research. Check conditions along your route and at your destination to ensure you’re not traveling through — or to — a hot spot. Global Rescue’s free Coronavirus Report includes maps with U.S. and worlwide hot spots, details on state-by-state restrictions, stay-at-home orders. You can also sign up for weekday email update alerts.

If you are planning a trip 100 miles away from home, a travel services membership will increase your safety on the front end, such as providing a risk assessment for a particular destination and assist you on the back end, in case you run into coronavirus restrictions or need an emergency medical evacuation.


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