We asked Mitchell H. Grayson, M.D. if it's safe to spend time in the great outdoors right now.

Lauren Wicks
March 25, 2020
Alistair Berg/Getty Images

Every person in our country has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some way—most immediately when it comes to our daily routines. Most of us are hunkering down at home, while others are working overtime to ensure this virus doesn't spread any further. It's a strange time, to say the least, and it's making us grateful for life's simple pleasures.

Many of us are finding solace in the great outdoors, whether we're gardening in our backyards or taking a walk around the block. But is it safe to go outside right now? We talked to Mitchell H. Grayson, M.D., F.A.A.A.A.I., F.A.C.A.A.I., professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University, to find out.

Is It Safe to Go Outside Right Now?

"People should definitely be going outside and enjoying exercise and the outdoors," Grayson says. "However, they need to continue practicing social distancing and stay at least six feet away from others." Even in parts of the country with the most serious restrictions, like California and New York, going outside is still permitted, provided you can keep your distance from others.

This means avoiding crowded parks, beaches and other public outdoor spaces in your area that are popular spots for recreation. If you're desperate to take your usual trail run, try going early in the morning before it becomes difficult to practice social distancing. Be sure to stay up to date with state and local guidelines, as some areas have closed public parks, beaches and trails.

Grayson says it is also important to be mindful of proper hygiene practices when going outdoors. He advises being wary of public fountains, restrooms and other high touchpoint areas that might not get proper cleaning.

He also advises avoiding stainless steel or plastic items that might harbor the virus (new research shows the virus can live on both surfaces for 2-3 days). This means you might want to discourage your children from playing on the swing set at your local park or avoid the playground altogether. If you or a family member does come in contact with stainless steel or plastic items in public spaces, Grayson recommends keeping hand sanitizer on hand that will make do until you can get home and wash your hands properly.

What About the Elderly or Those with Chronic Conditions?

"My recommendations are not age or co-morbid condition dependent," Grayson says. "They should practice normal precautions for their conditions, but there is no reason they can't go outside."

Being outdoors might actually do a world of good for at-risk populations that are having to take extra precautions to prevent COVID-19 and are avoiding exposure to the public as much as possible. There is plenty of research associating time in nature with improved mental health—just 10 minutes in a green space could help alleviate stress. It could especially be important for those who previously incorporated outdoor activity into their daily routines to bring a sense of normalcy.

The Bottom Line

If you're sick, please stay home and follow CDC guidelines of remaining inside except for medical care. Otherwise, getting some daily time in the great outdoors could be one of the best ways to spend the extra time in your day. Besides offering a mental health boost, sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D—a nutrient most of us don't get enough of—which boosts our immune system.

Spending time outdoors is also typically spent exercising, which is also important for a healthy immune system and reducing stress. Just be sure to enjoy nature responsibly and stay at least six feet away from other people .

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