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How to lower COVID-19 risk: Stay outside and get fresh air

Note: This article was last updated in July 2020. For the latest updates on COVID-19, see

To protect yourself from COVID-19 this summer, stick to outdoor activities as much as you can.

They tend to be safer than indoor activities, says Piedmont Director of Infection Prevention Jenay Beshears.

As you plan summer fun while keeping safety in mind, Beshears recommends outdoor spaces that allow for social distancing. Don’t forget to provide plenty of hand sanitizer, and wear a face covering if you can’t social-distance.

Why are the outdoors better?

Spending time outside means more fresh air circulation, space and sunlight. These factors make it more difficult for the coronavirus to spread from person to person.

“Outside, you’ve got the air circulating and fresh air blowing,” Beshears explains.

Compare that with indoor spaces, which can be cramped and may not get much fresh air.

“Poor ventilation and cramped spaces can increase your risk,” Beshears explains. “You’re in a closed space where you’re circulating that air through your ventilation system, which isn’t the best choice of activities and raises your risk.”

If you must be indoors with others, you should always wear a mask and social-distance. But by limiting most of your activities to outdoor spaces, you’ll give the virus less chance of spreading.

“Even if you are running and pass somebody, the air is going to circulate pretty quick past you,” she points out. “This lowers your exposure.”

What kinds of outdoor activities are safe?

Beshears says it’s usually fine to get exercise around your neighborhood, spend time on hiking trails, or even visit a beach that isn’t crowded (as long as you are social-distancing).  

But the safety of these places remains dependent on other factors: How many other visitors are present? Are you spending time in close proximity with people who don’t live with you?

Even when outside, Beshears says, you should stay away from large crowds that make distancing difficult. Avoid prolonged contact with people outside your immediate family or household, and don’t share your own items or food either.

Should you continue to follow other COVID-19 safety guidelines?

Practicing COVID-19 safety is important whether you’re indoors or outdoors, Beshears says. That means you should continue washing your hands regularly and keep at least six feet of space between yourself and others.

But if you’re seeing just a few other people outside and can maintain adequate space between yourselves, Beshears says you probably aren’t putting yourself at high risk.

She prefers the term “physical distancing” to “social distancing.” Even in the age of COVID-19, she points out, it’s still important to maintain relationships and take care of your mental health. By staying outdoors and following infection-prevention guidelines, you can socialize in a way that’s safe for everyone.

“We’ve got to have that social contact but be safe,” Beshears says. She also urges everyone to follow the 3 W’s:

  • Wear a facing covering over your nose and mouth 
  • Watch your distance (keep at least 6 feet apart)
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer

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