There has been a lot of confusion and conflicting information about how the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 affects different populations, and what to do to prevent infection. One thing that seems to have reached consensus is that being outdoors is safer than being indoors. Nevertheless, parents with cooped up kids were still faced with tough decisions: should children be allowed to participate in team sports? Can we safely go to the park? Where could we go on vacation and how would we get there? Read on to learn more about how COVID-19 has changed outdoor activities.
Staying Close to Home
According to a recent study conducted by Leave No Trace (an outdoor ethics non-profit) and Pennsylvania State University, more people are opting to stay close to home to engage in outdoor recreation. Close to 50 percent of people who responded to the research survey said they were limiting travel to recreational sites to within two miles of home. Prior to the first wave of lockdowns (before March 11, 2020,) just over ten percent were sticking that close to home. Activities shifted to those that can easily be done near home, like running, gardening, and birdwatching. Riskier activities and those that require extensive travel to resort destinations, such as skiing, suffered.
Group Size Shrinks
Where people used to head out with groups of five or six people for a run or a bike ride, more people are now going outdoors alone or with no more than one other person. It’s known to be safer for people to restrict themselves to activities with only the people who live in their home, and limit interactions with others.
Parks and Beaches on a Roller Coaster
When people heard outdoor activities were safer than indoor gyms, they headed to state parks and coastal beaches in droves. Predictably, these surges were followed by upswings in COVID cases, as people weren’t being careful enough about social distancing. Municipal parks and recreation departments were faced with a series of start-stop openings and closings, and had to find ways to adapt. They posted reminders about social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks, and reconsidered park design to spread people out more. The Miami-Dade park district hired hundreds of “park ambassadors” to provide information and encourage park users to watch out for each other by keeping their distance and wearing masks.
Municipal park districts should ensure they take steps to keep playgrounds clean and sanitized, and communicate the steps they’re taking so parents are informed.When rec centers cancelled in-person programming, they created virtual programming to keep kids engaged and active.
It remains to be seen how COVID-19 will affect outdoor recreation in the oncoming winter season—but it’s a safe bet that a snowball fight in the backyard will take precedence over a plane ride to a ski resort, at least until winter 2021.