Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn't have to halt all of your outdoor fun. Here are several fun outdoor activities you can still enjoy.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has affected activities for many people. With COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment, events and travel are coming back in many places.

But as waves of COVID-19 cases, also called outbreaks, happen, it's important to stay flexible with your plans.

Despite the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there's still plenty of fun to be had. In fact, seeking out fun activities may be even more important now. Doing something you enjoy can distract you from problems. And it can help you cope with life's challenges.

Depending on the weather where you live, many activities may be available. Heading outdoors can be a good way to have fun safely, no matter what COVID-19 cases look like in your community.

Why choose outdoor activities?

It's much harder to catch the virus that causes COVID-19 when you are outside.

The COVID-19 virus is mainly spread from person to person among those in close contact. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets from your lungs, mouth and nose. These droplets are released into the air when you talk, cough, speak, breath or sneeze.

In small places or spaces with air flow, also called ventilation, that is poor, the COVID-19 virus can stay in the air for minutes or hours.

When you're outside, fresh air is always moving, scattering these droplets. So, you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets that have the virus that causes COVID-19 to get the virus.

Places at high risk of COVID-19 spread are those that have a high number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 or a high number of new COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In areas of medium or high risk, the CDC suggests people wear well-fitted masks indoors in public, among other tactics.

The CDC and other health agencies also suggest that outdoor group activities are less risky than indoor ones in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Outdoor activities that are near where you live and allow plenty of space between you and others pose a lower risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus than indoor activities do.

Being outside offers other benefits, too. It offers an emotional boost and can help you feel less tense, stressed, angry or depressed. And sunlight can give your body vitamin D, too.

Low-risk ways to move more

Coming into close contact with people who don't live with you makes your risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 go up. Keep in mind low-risk ways to be around people if your area is considered at medium or high risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. In general, any activity that allows you to keep your distance from others is a lower risk activity.

You can enjoy many activities close to home, whether you're visiting your favorite public, state or national park. Or you may even be spending time in your neighborhood. Some activities may not be possible during some seasons. But there are many ways to be active outdoors throughout the year. Get moving with outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Walking, running and hiking.
  • Rollerblading and biking.
  • Fishing and hunting.
  • Golfing.
  • Rock or ice climbing.
  • Kayaking, canoeing, diving, boating or sailing.
  • Skiing, including cross-country and downhill skiing.
  • Ice skating.
  • Snowboarding.
  • Sledding.
  • Snowshoeing.
  • Fitness classes, held outside or virtually, that allow distance.

Choose routes that make it easy to keep your distance. If you live in an area with a medium or high risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus, the CDC suggests that you wear a well-fitted mask indoors in public. Don't wear a mask during activities in which it might get wet, such as swimming.

And don't let cold weather stop you from being active outdoors! Dress in layers. Protect your head, hands and feet. Then head outside for a winter hike or go cross-country skiing. And aim to keep a positive mindset about winter. This may help you to enjoy the season and winter activities more.

Low-risk social activities

Depending on your location and the weather, many other outdoor activities can be good low-risk choices:

  • Picnics. Pack food from home. Or pick up takeout from your favorite restaurant or food truck. In some places, you might be able to have food delivered to you. Take it to enjoy at your favorite public park. Or eat out on your patio or deck.
  • Outdoor farmers markets. Wear a mask when in crowded areas where it's hard to keep your distance from others.
  • Outdoor movies. Either at a drive-in theater or a community event, watching movies outdoors is something many people can enjoy together with plenty of physical distance.

Low- to moderate-risk outdoor activities

Some of these activities may not be available in all seasons and locations. But take advantage of them when the weather permits. Some ideas include:

  • Restaurant patio dining. Outdoor patio dining at uncrowded restaurants where patio tables are spaced apart is safer than indoor dining. Keep your distance from people in other areas of the restaurant. Avoid self-service food and drink options. And remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you enter and leave.
  • Camping. If you only have close contact only with people you live with, camping is low risk.

    If you camp with people outside your household, camp in separate tents spaced away from each other. Avoid sharing camping supplies, including food and drinks. Pack hand soap, hand sanitizer, and supplies to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.

  • Swimming pools and beaches. Close contact with others, not water itself, can make these activities risky. Water itself doesn't spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to people.
  • Gathering with small groups of friends. Allow for social distancing between people from different households, and meet outdoors in small groups. Skip the hugs and handshakes. Plan activities that don't need close contact, such as sidewalk chalk for kids and games such as kickball. And bring hand sanitizer.

    Keep in mind that just getting together for a chat at a safe distance can offer a valuable opportunity to be with people you care about. And it can boost your mood at the same time.

  • Boating with friends. Canoeing, kayaking or rowing with people outside your household is riskier than doing these activities with only those from your own household.
  • Barbecues, campfires and outdoor potlucks. Grill out on the patio. Or if the weather is cool, bundle up in warm clothes and sit around a fire pit. In general, keep your gathering small and keep distance from others. Plan activities that don't need close contact. Wash your hands when you come and go from the gathering.
  • Sports and sporting events. Contact sports, such as wrestling and basketball, carry more COVID-19 risk than other options. Tennis, baseball, softball and soccer pose less risk because players can keep physical distance. It's important for spectators, players and coaches to keep their distance too. Wearing a mask that fits and is comfortable when at crowded events can prevent you from getting or spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. And use hand sanitizer. Ensure you have enough space between you and other spectators, whether you're standing, sitting in chairs or sharing bleachers.

High-risk outdoor activities

Risk increases with how long you spend with others. It also increases if someone who has COVID-19 was near you and coughing or doing an activity such as singing.

Being in large gatherings or crowds of people where it's difficult to stay a safe distance apart poses the highest risk. The larger the group and the longer people are together in these situations, the higher the risk. Weddings, festivals and parades are examples.

Think safety and enjoyment

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it's important to take care of yourself and those around you. Practice precautions. It's important to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Test for COVID-19 if you have symptoms. And cancel plans if someone may be sick.

When you are out, wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face. If you live in an area with a high risk of COVID-19, wear a well-fitted mask. If you are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, wear a mask when you are in an area that has a medium or high level of risk of COVID-19.

At the same time, well-being also includes doing things that make life worth living. With the right information, you can make thoughtful choices about ways to bring a sense of normalcy and joy to your life during the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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June 08, 2023 See more In-depth

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