Medical professors say it’s OK to go outdoors amid virus
Yes, it’s safe to go to walking on trails and in public parks, so long as one maintains social distancing, a top doctor told The State on Friday.
“I’m all for good exercise and fresh air as long as you maintain your 6 feet apart,” said Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Steven Fiester, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine in Greenville, agreed.
“It is safe for individuals to enjoy outdoor activities such as walks in the park or runs around the neighborhood as long as they maintain social distancing,” Fiester said in an email.
Public outdoor spaces throughout S.C. are beginning to reopen. Friday, South Carolina reopened its state parks on a limited basis after closing them to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The West Columbia Riverwalk Park and Amphitheater also reopened as of Friday.
“Parks and other natural locations are kind of a natural escape,” said Jeff Hallo, a Clemson University associate professor who studies park and conservation area management. “What makes them less ideal is when we all use the same resource.”
The best way to enjoy parks and the outdoors without running into a large crowd of people is to go off the beaten path, Hallo said.
“There’s plenty of trails and plenty of attractions in these parks,” Hallo said.
Not everyone has reopened their parks. The city of Columbia’s parks remain closed, and officials have not set a date for when they will reopen, a spokesman said in an email Friday.
Those who do go out to a park are asked to practice social distancing, wear a
mask and wash their hands when they get home, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental
Control spokeswoman Laura Renwick said in an email.
The Palmetto State has done a relatively poor job social distancing since the quarantine began, according to one study that gave S.C. an “F” grade for social distancing practices.
But just because some parks are open doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all with outdoor activities. Playing contact sports and using playground equipment could spread COVID-19, Fiester said.
“For the time being it would be best to not play contact sports or any sports where athletic equipment is shared including footballs and baseballs that may be touched by multiple people unless the individuals that are playing the game are people that you are with in quarantine,” Fiester said. “Unfortunately, these items can harbor the virus causing COVID-19 for periods of time thus allowing spread of the virus.”
Running on public trails, even if one temporarily breaches the 6-foot social distancing barrier between themselves and a bystander, is most likely safe, Schmidt said. That’s because when someone is running, it creates “turbulence” similar to when a boat moves through water and creates a wake, Schmidt said.
“You yourself are not going to be a risk because you’re effectively creating your own turbulence,” Schmidt said.
Midlands residents gather over the Memorial Day Weekend in this file photo from 2015. The city of Columbia’s parks remain closed, and officials have not set a date for when they will reopen, a spokesman said in an email Friday.