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Find the latest information on the Coronavirus outbreak in Utah, including public health measures, contact information, news updates, and more.

Social Distancing Outside As Summer Arrives

NPS/Matt Turner

Snow is melting down from the high country. The rivers, creeks and streams are swollen with runoff and sediment. Wildflower blooms are hitting their stride and schools are officially offline. 

Summer has arrived ahead of its Solstice again. How do we begin to navigate this new beginning at a time of extremely abnormal circumstances? The hashtag #stayhome had its moment. But quarantine fatigue is real, writes Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School. Americans are going to head for the outdoors now and in places like Utah we feel we've been isolated from our playgrounds and sacred spaces for far too long. But how do we venture safely into the back of beyond or for that matter, the hidden wild spaces of our cities?


Experts at the Cleveland Clinic tell us that it's important to remember that the same rules of social distancing that you follow indoors still apply while outdoors. For the most part, this should be relatively easy to achieve. Personally, I follow the parking rule. If I can't find a spot to park my car at the trailhead, or my blanket at the park at least six feet away from others, I'll head somewhere else. 


The Guardian newspaper recently surveyed a group of experts on the pros and cons of wearing masks outdoors. The answer was not a blanket yes or no to the question about outdoor mask wearing but there are considerations individuals should make when considering the outdoor space they will be using and whether or not they should wear a mask. 


First, it's important to note that viral shedding is more prevalent when taking deeper harder breaths as one does climbing a steep switch back or running along the trail. More droplets, more virus, they say. Experts recommend at least doubling the social distance when exercising outdoors and forgoing the trail altogether if you're feeling ill. 

Even for those without symptoms considering a mask is important. Asymptomatic spread is a known possibility and the purpose of the mask is more to prevent you from spreading the virus as opposed to keeping you from getting it, said one expert to The Guardian. 


Preliminary studies have shown that if we follow these guidelines when recreating outdoors and use common sense strategies to limit exposure to those outside of our household, we're at relatively low risk of contracting the virus. The New York Times reports that one study of 1,245 Coronavirus cases across China found that only two came from outdoors transmission. 


As a backcountry enthusiast, the current pandemic has challenged me to rethink my recreation. I can no longer call up a buddy and set up a car shuttle for a 15 mile ridge walk or a leisurely paddle down the river. I had to find the quiet spaces between neighborhoods while the snow melts in the curve flattens. But in the process I've been reminded of how to stretch a half mile trail into a half day adventure of the sounds of nature when man-made noise is absent. And the care we have for one another safety when a family walks single file on the sidewalk past me.