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You Can Play This Summer. Just Play It Safe.
Ready to go to parks and beaches again? Here’s how best to protect yourself.
Fun is going to look a little different this summer.
Along with the cooler and sunscreen, families will need to pack facemasks and hand sanitizer. And feel free to breathe in the fresh air, as long as you do so socially distanced from your fellow hiker or sunbather.
As parks, beaches, pools and outdoor recreation facilities open up, more people will be heading outside to keep their minds and bodies healthy. But staying active also makes it more difficult to stay away from others – and stay safe – while doing so.
Here are some tips and expert advice to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 during your summer activities. Of course, you should do only what you feel comfortable with; there’s nothing wrong with staying inside.
Keep gatherings small
Wherever you go this summer, doing so with small groups of people is viewed as safest. In fact, limiting your outside activities to people with whom you already live reduces your infection risk, writes Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing.
Recommendations vary based on the infection rates of different regions. In New Jersey, Governor Murphy has begun rolling out a re-opening plan for the state. His executive orders now allow greater flexibility in the number of people and types of gatherings. As of June 9, 2020, the cap on outside gatherings was raised to 100, while further loosening of that limit is expected as the summer progresses, assuming the coronavirus trends continue to slow. Additional updates are being posted on Governor Murphy’s Executive Order page.
Another general rule of thumb: Maintain a distance of six feet between yourself and anyone outside your household to limit any potential spread of the virus. If you can’t, wearing face masks may be necessary. Just note that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under 2 shouldn’t wear masks for safety reasons.
As long as parks are open and not crowded, most public health experts believe they are good places to get some exercise and vitamin D. Of course, there are still some things to look out for.
- Playgrounds should be avoided, says the CDC, because they are often full of people in close proximity and it’s challenging to keep surfaces clean and disinfected.
- Dr. McCarthy from Harvard Health Publishing takes it a step further, advising not to touch anything in a park, including benches or signposts. If you or a child touches these surfaces, use a hand sanitizer to quickly disinfect.
- While it’s good for kids to be outdoors, be careful about what sports they play. A game of soccer or tennis are preferred choices, but skip tag or basketball, where close contact and heavy breathing dial up the risk for transmission.
- If you go to a state or national park that allows camping, make sure campsites are spaced at least six feet apart and wash hands thoroughly after using public bathrooms.
Going to the beach is considered low-risk – assuming you avoid high-risk activities like partying and contact sports. But taking a walk along the sand or boardwalk can be enjoyed, as long as you keep your distance from others, as can swimming in the ocean, since there’s no evidence COVID-19 can spread in seawater.
Like the ocean, swimming pools aren’t thought to spread COVID-19. Proper maintenance with chlorine and bromine usually kills viruses, says the CDC. Effective June 22, 2020, Governor Murphy ordered the opening of community swimming pools, both public and private (except for amusement parks and water parks).
Even with these re-openings, swimmers need to be mindful of the activities that happen in and around the pool, like kids splashing near each other, people lining up at the snack bar, and sunbathers crowding into changing rooms.
If you do go, make sure chairs are spaced six feet apart, bring your own food and drinks to avoid water fountains and snack bars, and consider wearing a mask when you are out of the pool and are near others.
Traveling long distances to a park or beach often requires stops along the way, where you may be in close contact with others. That’s why the CDC advises you to plan your recreational activities this summer close to home.
If you choose to travel, a road trip is the best bet. Wash or sanitize your hands after stops at gas stations, public bathrooms or fast-food restaurants. Choose drive-throughs over waiting in line or sitting down in restaurants.
Wherever this summer takes you, members of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey can access covered services from thousands of doctors, specialists and more. Virtual care options may also be available. Find a doctor here.