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8 Things You Should (and Shouldn’t) Do When Visiting Public Parks

The weather is improving and parks are opening up again—but that doesn't mean it's safe to explore the outdoors the way we used to.

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Park safety during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of our everyday lives, but as summer approaches, a new “phase” of pandemic life likewise seems to be dawning. Businesses are starting to reopen as the case count curve flattens. Despite that, though, guidance about what’s safe to do now hasn’t always been clear. There’s certainly been plenty of talk about how outdoor spaces are safer than indoor ones, but “safer” doesn’t mean “completely risk-free.” If you choose to embark into a public space, here are some rules to follow, straight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to continue to keep yourself and others safe. Plus, find out when things might return to “normal” and what that could look like.

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Stay close to home

If you’re going to go to a public park, you’re better off choosing one that’s a short drive away than one that requires a 40-minute car ride. While we’re not fully “sheltering in place” anymore, that doesn’t mean that it’s open season for traveling wherever we please. If you’re traveling a long way, you’re more likely to stop along the way, increasing your interpersonal interactions and even contact with physical surfaces that could spread the virus. Find out what travel could look like after coronavirus.

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Be conscious of conditions in your area

Yes, the overall COVID-19 case numbers are trending slightly downward, but there are plenty of places where cases are rising and/or higher than they’ve ever been. If your area is seeing an increase in cases or emerging as a “hot spot,” it might not be time yet to resume some of these activities, and if you do, make sure to exercise utmost caution. Before you head out, check for information about case counts in your area. Here’s when COVID-19 is expected to peak in every state.

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Wear a mask

Yes, outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones, but masks are still one of the simplest ways you can reduce the spread of the virus and you should wear one in public, even outdoors. Talking across distances, as well as the wind itself, can spread the virus particles, so you should add that extra layer of protection with a face covering. Here are some guidelines for when you do and don’t need to wear a mask. Plus, even if you do have one, you might be making these common mask mistakes.

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Wash your hands

Just like wearing a mask, washing your hands for 20 or more seconds is another super-simple way to combat the spread of the virus. You might be tired of hearing (and doing) it, but the reason you’re hearing it so much is that it’s effective. So make sure you’re washing your hands after using the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after touching surfaces in public spaces. Afterall, handwashing is one of the simplest things you can do to prevent these 15 diseases.

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Stay six feet from others

“Social distancing” is one of the phrases about coronavirus that you should know by now for a reason. Though many have started to consider using “quarantine bubbles” with people outside your home, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to stay six feet away from strangers in public. If you’re going to stay put at the park, make sure you’re more than six feet (two meters) from others. And if you’re going to be moving around, make a similar effort to keep that same distance from people you encounter. It can be tricky to maneuver around people, especially on trails and pathways, but you should still make the effort.

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Don’t use playgrounds

The CDC warns that it’s not quite time yet to resume playing on playgrounds, even outdoor ones. For one thing, they can get more crowded than open areas, not to mention it’s challenging to socially distance on a narrow bridge, platform, or staircase like those that playgrounds often have. For another, the surfaces on playgrounds can be challenging to clean and keep clean. And though the CDC has determined that the novel coronavirus doesn’t spread as easily on surfaces as we originally thought, you’ll still want to minimize your risk by avoiding contact with areas where you don’t know how many people have touched it recently or the last time it was cleaned. Unfortunately, there are lots of coronavirus mysteries scientists still can’t explain.

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Don’t visit crowded areas

If the park you’re planning on visiting looks to be so crowded that it’ll be challenging, if not impossible, to maintain a safe social distance, consider coming back another time. The CDC continues to advise against gathering in large crowds, as those are prime conditions for the virus to spread.

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Don’t gather in groups

Just as you should avoid crowded parks, you should also hold off on resuming gathering in groups of ten or more. While, yes, many people are starting to meet up with some friends and family from outside their own homes again, and that’s OK as long as you handle it safely, you should still try to keep a cap on the group size to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Next, make sure you’re aware of these coronavirus mistakes you might make this summer.