Hey, you: Go outside! Really, you can go outside. (We asked.) In fact, you should go outside.
Not to own the libs or in denial of the global pandemic. Not because I don’t think the novel coronavirus is a big deal or because, statistically speaking, you’re probably not sick. Don’t go outside because you’re young and healthy and unlikely to experience severe symptoms if you do get sick, or because you think the dangerously belated national response is an overreaction.
In fact, while I have you: Sanitize your door knobs, wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, maintain a safe distance (we’ll get to that) from any non-household members, keep up to date on the latest expert recommendations, and generally take this s--- seriously.
But also: Go outside.
In addition to being existentially anxiety-inducing, prone to causing waves of periodic panic in the face of mind-bogglingly indefinite uncertainty — painfully indicative of how ill-equipped our current government is to competently message around or manage large-scale disasters — and emblematic of how widening economic disparity, coupled with a total lack of social safety nets, has left huge swaths of the population on the precipice of precarity, combating the coronavirus is really boring.
Ironic tweets about how it’s presumptuous of the government to assume you even have 10 friends are funny the first half-dozen times, pictures of your pets paired with “coworker” captions are still cute, and riffs on Love in the Time of Coronavirus never were. But please stop posting about how you haven’t left your apartment in days. There’s no excuse for that! (Unless you are actually, currently sick — in which case, take care, feel better soon.)
If you are someone who is able to work from home, by now you should be. (If you are someone who works in one of the vital industries that are still operational, thank you; you deserve a salary and a serious raise.)
That means you should not go outside to go to your office or to eat at a restaurant or to meet up with friends. You should not party with other spring breakers on a packed beach in Miami.
But you can go outside just to be outside.
(You can also go outside to acquire groceries, gas or medical necessities.)
Go for a walk, around the block, to the closest green space. Go for a run, if you’re so inclined. Sit on your stoop if you’re not, and let the outside air wash over you. Put on a podcast, or your favorite playlist — not to be blithe, but to give yourself a break. Even if your job is keeping you busier than ever and your schedule is full of teleconference meetings, virtual check-ins and a cold capitalistic unwillingness to accept a global pandemic’s impact on productivity, you can find half an hour to remind yourself that, even now, we’re not literally imprisoned in our homes.
Four different state have instituted shelter-in-place mandates to quell crowds and control the local coronavirus outbreak. But even its ordinances like San Francisco list, under “Essential Activities” for which individuals may leave their residences: “to engage in outdoor activity … such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, or running.”
Keeping yourself from going stir crazy and maybe even sneaking in a little exercise is an essential activity — and for a good reason. Contrary to the spirit of memes mocking millennials by comparing our current couch-bound plight to storming the beaches of Normandy, being cooped up is stressful. Anxiety is a sufficient reason to be struggling — even in the face of a global pandemic. It’s easy and unhelpful to disregard the mental health effects of a drastic reduction in our agency to move about the world because “people are dying.” It’s not wrong to take care of yourself, and I promise, taking a walk will help.
I realize that the advice in this piece seems directly contrary to the urgent rallying cry telling people to “stay home!” But that’s because people are stupid and prone to oversimplification, and panic makes us more so. “Stay home” is a really important mantra in opposition to going about your normal life. The stakes are high enough that in the absence of subtler distinction, it’s safer to just stay home.
But now is a great time to read the fine print. Social distancing is not just a punchline, it has an actual, knowable, applicable definition. According to a New York Times article breaking down a lot of the buzzy terminology, it means “keeping six feet of distance between you and others while in public and avoiding physical contact with people who do not share your home.” It also means remembering to wash your hands when you come home. Probably don’t touch anything in public and don’t go anywhere that you can’t put six feet between yourself and the person next to you.
If you have symptoms or have come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, you should not go outside except to seek medical care. You are responsible for monitoring your own status and not imposing unnecessary risk on the world around you. Do you think you can handle that? Good. Then go outside.
Dr. Kathryn Jacobsen, Yahoo Sports Public Health Contributor and a professor of global health epidemiology at George Mason University, explained that “getting outdoors for some fresh air and exercise can be an important part of staying healthy during the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t made any recommendations that people limit outdoor time if they live in places that have not imposed restrictions on outdoor activities and they can maintain physical distance from people who are not members of their own households.”
She did caution that the official COVID-19 control measures and recommendations from public health experts could change in the coming weeks. At some point, if things become dire enough, maybe they will advise us to stay inside. Which is a really good reason to go outside now, while you still can.
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