By Andrew Iida l Head Writer & Resident EMT
This lockdown has been the longest year of my life.
Okay, it was really a month and a half, but it sure did feel like a year. But in the last few weeks, we’ve had some great news. The city is once again allowing people to enter beaches and public areas, and businesses in La Jolla are being allowed to open their doors for the first time since the stay at home order was issued. It’s time to stop being a hermit, get outside, and enjoy the sun!
When the news came out, a lot of people were quick to flock to the beaches. Especially with the bio-luminescent tide that's making our waves glow bright blue, the beaches seem more crowded than they usually would be.
Other people have been dismayed at the amount of people in public, and worried that it will worsen the pandemic. It’s good to be cautious, and we can’t thank you enough for being extra careful to keep your families and communities safe. But authorities aren’t just allowing outdoor recreation; they’re encouraging it. Here’s what the experts are saying.
The COVID-19 risk is low outdoors.
COVID-19 spreads quickly in enclosed, indoor spaces, but spreads much more slowly outside. Dr. Kevin Winthrop, professor of Infectious Diseases in Epidemiology and Public Health and Preventative Medicine, states that wind, UV radiation, and the fact that people tend to stay further away from each other outside mean that the risk of infection is much lower for outdoor spaces than indoor spaces.
This theory is supported by the evidence available for COVID-19. A study of the spread of the disease in China has revealed that out of 320 separate outbreaks, only one occurred because of outdoor contact. We still need to take precautions to slow the spread of the virus, but the risk of walking on a beach seems to be lower than walking through a grocery store. This is why cities are opening beaches again sooner than they’re opening retail stores.
Exercise helps protect against COVID-19
The vast majority of people who have died from COVID-19 have pre-existing conditions. In general, the virus poses less risk to individuals who are more healthy, and one of the most important aspects of health is regular exercise. This is true for any disease or virus, and we’ve known for a long time that exercise improves your overall cardiovascular health and boosts your immune system.
But with COVID-19, exercise may play an even more important role. Dr. Zen Yan, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at UVA, thinks that it helps protect against one of the most serious complications of COVID-19. Acute respiratory distress syndrome, ARDS, is a symptom of the virus that accounts for 85% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Dr. Yan’s study of medical research indicates that exercise promotes the production of EcSOD, an antioxidant that protects against ARDS. No amount of exercise will make you immune to the virus, but it will significantly decrease your chances of getting sick and increase your chances of making a full recovery if you do.
Being outside is important for mental health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year it’s more important than ever. Almost half of Americans have reported that the pandemic is damaging their mental health, and emergency hotline calls have increased by 1,000%.
We know that exercise is beneficial for mental health. We have years and years of studies showing that regular exercise improves mood, reduces anxiety and depression, and can be an effective treatment for mental health disorders. Now more than ever, people need to pay attention to their mental health and work to maintain it.
If your gym is locked down, there are a lot of options for guided workouts at home, but going outside and getting close to nature has additional benefits to boost your mental health. Researchers have found that outdoor activities, even ones as simple as taking a brief walk, improve mental health. Being outdoors can reduce stress and anxiety, and elevate your mood.
Even though Californians are being asked to stay at home, experts agree that as long as you’re being careful, out door exercise will help to keep us physically and mentally fit.
It’s a good opportunity to support local businesses
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Half of all adults in the country are employed by small businesses, the majority of us first started working for a small business, and they’re generally more innovative than large firms. Small businesses are also better for local economies, and generate more jobs, more opportunities, and higher incomes.
Small businesses have been struggling during the lockdown. Now that many of them are reopening, it’s a great opportunity to help support your local communities by getting outside and enjoying nature to the fullest. Everyday California is now offering kayak, surfboard, paddle board, and snorkel rentals to help you explore the La Jolla Ecological Reserve.
Going outside can be safe if you do it safely.
I went to the beach last weekend to see the glowing waves, and it was so crowded that it felt like summer again, but there were some huge differences. The city has opened certain beaches for active use, so there are a lot of people walking, running, swimming, and surfing.
Normally, the beaches would be crowded with towels, blankets, and umbrellas, but nobody is allowed to gather and sit on the beaches anymore. Every few minutes, a lifeguard would get on a megaphone and remind everyone to keep moving and stay at least 6 feet apart. We can enjoy outdoor spaces, but we can’t forget that in the middle of a pandemic, we need to act differently.
Practice social distancing
The CDC has 3 basic rules for social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet apart, do not gather and groups, and stay out of crowded places.
In our experience, San Diego has been good about social distancing. On the beach, everyone seemed to be keeping well beyond 6 feet away from each other. However, we need to be better about avoiding gathering in crowds. Moonlight Beach was packed at night, but by walking just a quarter mile down the beach, I was able to stay at least 300 feet away from anyone else. Please, take the extra five minutes of walking to make sure we’re all safe.
Wear a mask
Coronavirus disease is spread by respiratory droplets, which are released when a person coughs, sneezes, talks, and breathes. These droplets can directly reach a person’s nose, mouth, or eyes to start an infection, or they can land on an object like a door handle or hand rail and survive long enough to infect another person.
The CDC is recommending that all Americans wear face masks when they’re out in public. Commercially-made face masks can be hard to come by these days (our entire first shipment sold out in the first 2 hours), but you can make an effective mask at home with ordinary household items.
Keep in mind that you’re not just wearing a mask to protect yourself. A lot of young, healthy adults can contract COVID-19 with little or no symptoms, but even if they don’t feel sick, they can still spread the virus. Wearing a mask is just as much about protecting your community as it is about protecting yourself.
Wash your hands
You won’t get COVID-19 if the virus is only on your hands, but it can enter your body very easily and quickly from your eyes, nose, and mouth. According to some studies, the average person might touch their face 23 times per hour, so keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to stay healthy. Follow the CDC's guide above for proper hand-washing technique.
As long as you follow these basic guidelines, going outside can be a safe and fun way to stay mentally and physically healthy. We look forward to seeing you at the beach!