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Experts say get outside for low-risk activities

Monday, March 15, 2021

Experts say get outside for low-risk activities

Joel Shannon


A new tool to fight COVID-19 is on the rise across the United States: warm, fresh air.

Spring and summer weather will provide opportunities for people ? vaccinated or not ? to enjoy low-risk outdoor activities to better their physical and mental health, experts say.

It's a development in the fight against COVID-19 because experts are now confident that it's much harder for the virus to spread in outdoor conditions ? especially when people wear masks and keep their distance.

"There (was) a lot of fear in the early parts of the pandemic because we didn't know how it spread," Gleb Tsipursky, author of a book about adapting to "the new abnormal" of COVID- 19, told USA TODAY.

That uncertainty was at play last year as states closed beaches and parks and has continued to influence policy this year. In February, University of California, Berkeleymade headlines for banning outdoor exercise.

But research has shown that simple precautions are usually enough to keep you safe from COVID-19 when outside, experts say.

"Outdoors are not only safe but really, really important," said Nooshin Razani, a University of California, San Francisco professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.

Razani co-wrote a review of studies on indoor versus outdoor spread of COVID-19 and similar viruses. That widely cited study found there was about a 20 times higher chance of transmission indoors than outdoors.

COVID-19 can spread outside, but it spreads much more easily inside. Indoor spread is so pervasive that researchers, including Razani, have struggled to document clear examples of outdoor transmission.

It's relatively easy for a highly contagious respiratory virus to spread inside: particles, often from infected people not yet showing symptoms, easily build up in uncirculated air, Tsipursky and Razani explained. "You're all exposed to the same air

... that should freak people out," Razani said.

Experts are generally hesitant to label any activity completely safe because a host of factors are at play.

"It's hard to give rules," said Dr. David P. Eisenman, a professor of medicine and public health with University of California, Los Angeles' Fielding School of Public Health.

Eisenman and other experts agree: Standard COVID-19 precautions ? especially keeping your distance and wearing a mask ? are especially effective at keeping you safe from the virus when spending time outside.

You are "very, very unlikely to catch COVID" if you're keeping socially distant outside andwearing a mask when you can, Tsipursky said.

Exercising outdoors with members of your household is among the most commonly cited examples of a safe activity. (AndEisenman encourages anyone worried about catching the virus from an unmasked passerby to let that worry go: That's "not going to pose a risk to you.") For those who have been been avoiding outdoor activities, Tsipursky points out that depriving yourself of joy doesn't necessarily keep you safer.

"COVID is not a punishment for sin," he said. It's a respiratory virus that primarily spreads between people in close proximity, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.

"Just enjoy your time outside."

Contributing: Christal Hayes

Research shows simple precautions are usually enough to keep you safe when outside. GETTY IMAGES

Copyright (c) 2021 Austin American-Statesman, Edition 3/15/2021

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