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Thinker's Notebook

To Be, or not To Be… Outside? That is the question.



While in quarantine, I have continued more or less to maintain the level of physical activity that my body is used to, mainly the running. I’m treating this time as I would if things were normal. The Brooklyn Half Marathon would’ve been happening on Saturday May 16th, and so my running schedule has been based on needing to be ready to run that half. This means that I’ve been running, outside, at least three times a week ever since we were told to shelter-in-place.

My running strategy is pretty simple. I go early in the morning and stay away from routes that have a high concentration of runners. I wear a face shield, take off all of my running clothes before coming into the house, and then shower and perform a nasal rinse directly after. My long runs allow me the opportunity to venture further out of my neighborhood, which gives me the chance to see how people in the city are behaving with regards to being outside. There are certain places, like in midtown Manhattan for example, that are total dead zones, not a person outside for blocks. However, in many of the more popular areas of Brooklyn, places like Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, people are bustling about pretty much in a normal fashion. At the farmer’s market at Prospect Park this weekend, folk were making purchases and enjoying the beautiful day, strolling along Eastern Parkway, or jogging into the park. I did see instances of social distancing. For example, there was a line to get into the farmer’s market and the people on line were staggered about six feet apart. It was a similar scene at Fort Greene Park. There were dozens of people moving in and out of the park, walking their dogs or just enjoying the day. Many had masks on, but some did not.

So which is it? Can we go outside, or not?
As with most things, it isn’t as much what you do as it is how you do it. We know now that wearing a face mask curbs the spreading of Covid-19. We also know that the virus can live on certain surfaces for days, and can linger in the air in places where there is a high concentration of people. Some of us have witnessed firsthand the results of cluster infections — when an infected person comes into a space and multiple people become infected from being around that person. So we know that social distancing is key to survival. Most importantly, we know how dangerous Covid-19 is. We have to know. It’s taking from us people we love. Our hospitals are overrun by Covid cases. Our frontline workers are becoming infected, and some of them are dying. Every day my Facebook timeline reads like an update on the health of friends and loved ones. Some of it is good news, like the recovery of a friend, or a friend’s realization that they test negative for the virus. And some of it is bad news, like friends losing loved ones, or losing their own fight with this thing. So, we have to know how dangerous Covid is. We cannot be afforded the freedom of second-guessing this virus. At this point, I don’t care about its origin. I don’t care if it originated from bats at a wet market, or from 5G technology, or from any of the ideas your local conspiracy theorist can come up with. The only thing that matters is that we know for certain that Covid-19 is dangerous.
Taking what we know, how do we arm ourselves against the virus in a way that makes it okay for us to be outside and possibly even around other people? First, we have to follow the basics. A facemask is mandatory when around anyone other than those you’ve been quarantined with. If you’re wearing a mask, and an infected person is wearing a mask, there is less than a 2% probability of you catching the virus if you come in contact with one another. If neither of you are wearing masks, that probability rate rises to 70%. A mask is essential. Situational awareness is also essential. What are you touching while in public? Picture this, you touch a surface where the virus is living, and then touch your face. Or, you touch that surface and you don’t touch your face, but you do touch your phone and then when your phone rings you put the phone to your face. We know that the virus enters the system through the nose, the mouth and the eyes, so while outside you have to create a strategy that will guard against the virus entering your system. Don’t touch your face. Keep antiviral sanitizer with you and use it every time you touch a surface. Don’t put your phone to your face. When you get home, immediately undress, wash your hands and face thoroughly and clean your phone.

Finally, the virus is a numbers game. The more people that you come in contact with in the street, the more opportunities you give yourself to contract the virus. Limit person-to-person interactions to those that you know for certain do not have the virus. Everyone else should stay at least 6 feet away from you at all times. I don’t care if you see your long-lost best friend from second grade. If you can’t confirm with certainty that they haven’t been exposed to the virus, don’t expose yourself to them.

With a real strategy, we can still enjoy the outdoors. Without a strategy, the virus will continue to spread. Be smart, be aware, and you won’t need to be a hermit, hulled up in your apartment until the fall. If living with the virus is our new normal, then we need to begin to learn how to live with the virus. And this starts by re-learning how to behave outside.

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