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Experts weigh in on how to safely go to public parks

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Parks across the U.S. are seeing a surge in visitors as people try to find safe ways to enjoy the summer weather. From picnics with friends to solo dates with a good book and a blanket, people are craving fresh air. Public parks are there to make it happen.

But with more and more people turning to neighborhood parks as other recreational spaces remain closed, crowding can turn your daily walk into an obstacle course as you attempt to social distancing with other parkgoers. Parents desperate to help their children burn off excess energy now have to worry about the safety of playgrounds. And when people made their New Year’s resolutions to work out more in January, no one expected that a pandemic would make sticking to it even harder.

Fortune asked public health and medical experts around the country to share their strategy for safely utilizing public parks.  

Their responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Dr. James H. Diaz, program director in the LSU School of Public Health: “I carry two things in my shirt pocket when I am out: a 70{ce8ce7cc98bffdc4302011057a79600ea02c464c5536f1477c12acdb8bd79c00} ethanol squirt pen and a 70{ce8ce7cc98bffdc4302011057a79600ea02c464c5536f1477c12acdb8bd79c00} ethanol-based hand sanitizer that I keep filled. I try to visit parks that are close to home, either very early in the morning or late at night. I walk or jog and avoid crowds and water fountains—I would not use public water fountains at all right now. It’s a good idea to call the park in advance and find out if bathrooms are open and what services are available. When I get home, I wipe off my shoe soles with Clorox wipes and leave them outside to dry.” 

Nicolette Louissaint, executive director of Healthcare Ready in Washington, D.C.: “I’m currently working out in a public park myself. I go to less populated areas of the park and try to maintain at least 6 feet—but preferably more distance—between me and the people around me, even when I’m running. I’m taking disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with me. If I hook my resistance bands on a fence for an exercise, for example, I like having the wipes so I can wipe them down once I’m done. It can be tempting to wipe sweat out of your eyes or touch your face while working out, but I’m very mindful about not touching my face until I can wash my hands again. When working out, it’s been easier for me to wear a neck gaiter instead of the typical face mask; I find that they stay up a little better.” 

Dr. Norman Beatty, professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine: “Going to a public park can be safe if we can follow social distancing guidelines, wear our face covering, and use hand sanitizers. When planning a day at the park, try and think of activities that do not involve close contact to others that may also be visiting and enjoying the scenery. It can be tempting to congregate around food carts or rest stops at the park, but it’s important to remember social distancing. Even when we are outdoors, we should continue to socially distance ourselves and try not to cut any corners. These simple measures can help prevent a transmissible moment while visiting our favorite public park.

“Throughout the day try to periodically wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Remember, most hand sanitizers should be kept out of direct sunlight and the summertime heat; this could potentially weaken or degrade the active components. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are combustible when exposed to an open flame, so keep that in mind.” 

Dr. Lindsay Thompson, medical director of the Pediatric Research Hub at the University of Florida: “Parks and outside spaces are wonderful for children, so going for nature walks and getting family exercise should be encouraged. You can make these really fun and special experiences by having scavenger hunts and relay races.  However, some playgrounds have remained closed given that they are high touch areas, no one can monitor the health of children and care givers at entry, and it is impossible to implement a frequent cleaning program.

“I personally feel comfortable visiting a public park if others are wearing face coverings, and you can tell everyone is practicing social distancing. I have been in several situations where I have left a public place because the majority of people around me were not following these simple guidelines.” 

Dr. Robert Johnson, dean of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School: “There was a gym I used to go to in the morning, but they’re closed right now. Instead, I’ve been going to the park every morning around 5 a.m. when it’s less crowded. Everyone who was there exercising this morning had a mask on. You should be practicing social distancing as much as you can and make sure you’re wearing a mask if you’re close to people. We know that outside activities are ones where we have the less likelihood of transmitting the virus, so parks can be very safe, but you should not put yourself in a position where you’re with a large group of people.” 

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