Face Masks, Sunscreen, and Vitamin D
Do I Need to Wear a Mask or Practice Social Distancing While Outdoors?
Regulations around face coverings may vary from place to place, notes Choi. He offers the example of a park outing. “Before going outside to any location, check and see if the park is open, and if they have rules around face coverings,” he says.
Try to visit the park during off-peak hours so you’ll encounter fewer people, Choi adds. “You should practice social distancing even when you’re outside [and] that’s easier when it’s less crowded.”
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Is Sunscreen on My Face Necessary if I’m Wearing a Face Covering?
You should still apply sunscreen to the area underneath a mask to avoid getting a sunburn, according to Joel Gelfand, MD, a dermatologist and professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. “This is because masks may shift on the skin, and it can be difficult to make sure you have covered areas of your face that are not covered by the mask as it shifts during normal wear,” he says.
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Don’t We Need Vitamin D From the Sun to Help Our Immune System? Should I Skip Sunscreen to Make Sure I’m Getting Enough Vitamin D?
That would be a hard no. “Sun exposure causes sunburns, aging of the skin, and skin cancers that can be disfiguring and, in some cases such as melanoma, deadly,” says Dr. Gelfand. “Routine use of sunscreen does not meaningfully alter vitamin D production by the body and therefore people should liberally apply a high SPF (minimum of 15) sunscreen every two hours so decrease the harmful effects of ultraviolet light radiation.”
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Do I Need to Wear a Face Covering When I’m Riding a Bike?
Biking shouldn’t require wearing a face covering, especially if you are riding on the road or out on a trail in the woods, says Choi. “But if you are in a large group of people biking together where it could be hard to maintain social distancing, you may want to consider wear one,” he says. The same is true if you’re planning on hanging out when you’re finished your ride — you should have a face covering for those times, adds Choi.
Outdoor Exercise and Sports
Do I Need to Social Distance While Walking or Running?
“When it comes to exercise, the safest social distance might be a little bit more than six feet,” says Choi. Right now there’s no way to know the optimum amount of space, so it’s better to err on the side of caution, he says.
“For example, if someone is walking or running in front of you, it’s probably a good idea to stay more than six feet behind them. If that person was infected with COVID-19 and they sneezed or coughed it could create a cloud of aerosol in the air; if you are right behind that person, you might walk or run through that,” says Choi.
Is It Safe to Go Hiking?
Going outside for a hike or even just a walk in the neighborhood is a good way to decompress and reduce stress, says Choi. “Being close to nature is good for you, and I encourage everyone to do that.”
If you’re hiking in a relatively remote location you may not need a face covering or mask, but it’s still a good idea to keep one with you because sometimes there can be groups of people at the trailhead or parking area, explains Choi. “If you’re going to be on a busy trail or park and around a lot of other people and social distancing isn’t possible, you should wear a face covering,” he adds.
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Can I Play Soccer or Basketball? What About Other Sports or Types of Exercise?
Outdoor activities like soccer or basketball require close proximity and even physical contact. ”I think right now the best thing would be either to avoid those activities or expect everyone to use a face covering,” says Choi.
“Keep in mind it can be very difficult to exercise at a moderate or high intensity while wearing face coverings. People do need to take that into consideration because it’s not easy to play sports with your face covered — it can be difficult to breathe,” he says.
Use common sense and always consider how social distancing can be maintained during an activity, suggests Choi. Instead of playing a contact sport, consider tossing a football or frisbee with friends. “Tennis is also a safe sport,” he adds. Continue to use the recommended CDC measures — all participants should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after playing.
As long as you are practicing social distancing, yoga or solo workout type activities are very likely to be safer when practiced outdoors compared with inside. “Even though we haven’t studied individual activities inside and out to see how likely the virus is to be transmitted in each scenario, we know that most of the people who have gotten sick from COVID-19 were in confined spaces,” Choi says. According to a preprint study published April 7, 2020, in medRxiv that examined the spread of the virus in China, only 1 case out of 7,324 was connected to outdoor transmission.
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Kids and Summer Safety
Is It Safe for Kids to Play With Friends Outside?
Exposure to other people in any scenario poses some amount of risk, but we do have an idea of what activities carry more or less risk, says Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and the chief of infectious disease in the department of medicine at the University at Buffalo in New York. “Outdoors is much safer than indoors, but if children or adults are anticipated to be in close proximately more than transiently, risk will be increased if someone is infected and masks are not being used by both parties,” says Dr. Russo.
If you’re planning a get together for your children, there are steps you can take to make the playdate safe as possible, says Choi.
- Stay home if anyone is sick. “Obviously, no one should be going out and meeting people if they have any symptoms of the virus,” says Choi. “And everyone should stay at least six feet apart and stick to smaller groups.”
- Know what six feet means. Review what six feet of space looks like so they can try to maintain that during play. “I’ve heard from colleagues that even very young kids seem to grasp the concept of distancing and the need for it right now,” says Choi.
- Wear a mask or face covering. “Everyone, including children, should wear a mask when going outside and social distancing is not possible,” says Choi. Try to make sure the face covering is made or altered to fit properly. “Masks can be a challenge with children because it may be difficult for them to keep it on their face, causing them to touch the mask or their face to adjust it,” he adds. “It’s also important to review the proper way to wear a mask,” he adds.
- Keep your snacks to yourself. If children are six feet or more apart, it’s relatively safe for them to eat together outside, says Choi. “It’s great for them to be able to socialize, but they shouldn’t share food right now,” he adds.
- Wash hands. Generally speaking, sharing toys is okay because COVID-19 is less likely to transmit through contaminated surfaces, says Choi. “However, parents should be mindful that small children may bring toys or other objects to their mouth — and that’s not okay,” he says. “Children should learn and get into the habit of washing hands before and after playing, too.”
Choi also notes that the pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS), is concerning. According to the CDC, this disease has been reported in children testing positive for current or recent COVID-19 infection. “This disease seems to be rare, which is very fortunate, but kids can still be infected and so everyone should continue to take the precautions,” he says.
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Can I Take My Child to the Playground?
The current CDC guidelines recommend against using playgrounds because it’s hard to maintain social distancing and keep the equipment clean and disinfected. If children or adults touch those surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, they may be exposed to COVID-19.
Can I Take My Kids to Spend the Day at an Amusement Park?
“I would be concerned about going to an amusement park if it were being approached in the ‘old normal’ way of doing things,” says Choi. “There can be a bunch of people in long lines for several minutes or even an hour or more. Sometimes people have to go into a smaller room before a ride to watch a video or for pre-ride entertainment, and that could be a confined space where social distancing is difficult.” Neither of those scenarios would be safe right now, he adds.
“I expect that the parks are decreasing the number of people who are allowed to enter and taking measures so that people can social distance in lines,” says Choi. “They should also take measures to keep all the areas that people touch very frequently as clean as possible. If a park isn’t taking those sorts of steps, I would probably say that it’s not a safe environment.”
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Outdoor Activities and Public Spaces
Can I Attend a Cookout?
Before you plan anything, you should find out the current local rules around gatherings by checking the website of your state and local health department, recommends Choi. “Getting together with a few people is probably okay as long as you are social distancing, but a large gathering could pose increased risk of infection and you should wear a face covering,” he says.
“If you aren’t from the same household, it’s a good idea to bring your own food, drink, supplies, and utensils to avoid transmitting the virus through surfaces,” says Choi.
What Precautions Should I Take While Eating at a Restaurant?
Outside seating at a restaurant is definitely safer than indoor seating, says Choi. Just make sure tables are spaced six feet apart. “So far, most restaurants seem to be doing a good job of creating distance between the tables. When people are sitting together at a table, obviously they are close and so you should only do that with people in your family or household,” he says.
Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer when that’s not possible. “Some people use disinfectant wipes to clean anything that they might be touching. I’ve heard of people bringing their own utensils and condiments with them when they eat out, though it’s not clear from the evidence we currently have about the virus if this is really necessary,” says Choi.
“The most important thing is to keep that distance between yourself [and] your group and other people, whether that’s while you’re in line waiting or sitting at the tables, because obviously you can’t wear a mask while eating and drinking,” he says.
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Is It Safe to Take My Dog to the Park or on a Hike?
This is okay as long as you practice social distancing, says Choi. That means keeping your dog on a leash at all times and staying at least six feet away from other people and other dogs, according to the CDC. “We’re not aware of animal to human transmission but there are a lot of things we don’t know; it’s better to be safe than sorry right now,” he says. Because dog parks are more crowded and some dogs may be off leash, you should avoid them for now, per the CDC.
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Are Swimming Pools Safe?
There’s currently no evidence that the coronavirus can spread from person to person through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water parks. The disinfection with chlorine and bromine that are part of the daily maintenance of the water should inactivate the virus, according to the CDC.
That being said, social distancing and hand-washing once you’re out of the water is recommended to prevent catching or spreading the virus.
How Safe Is a Day at the Beach?
It hasn’t been proven that the virus can spread through ocean water, notes Choi. “If there’s any transmission in the beach setting, I would suspect that it would most likely be from close proximity to people,” he says.
Make sure you’re setting up your towel or area at least six feet apart from other groups. “What you really want to avoid is a large conglomeration of people in a small space, and this is possible at most beaches,” says Choi, adding, “It’s not a great idea to share a tent-type enclosure or to get a sunscreen reapplication from people who are outside your household unless everyone is wearing a mask.”
“I encourage people to walk, run, or ride bikes while they’re enjoying the beach,” he says. Keep in mind if you’re engaging in physical activity by the ocean, the rules are the same as they would be in a park; stay six feet apart or possibly more if you’re walking or running behind someone. “In many parts of the country there’s a lot of pollen in the air right now; you never know when someone in front of you may cough or sneeze,” says Choi.
The aerosol from a person infected with COVID-19 disperses in a short time when you’re outside, says Choi. “When the weather is windy or sunny that time is even shorter,” he says.
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