In Praise of the Great Outdoors

There’s a strong case for safely taking advantage of the nice weather before the fall

Photo: aydinmutlu/Getty Images

Seven months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s one solid piece of good news. The virus quite clearly doesn’t spread well outdoors. Mass protests throughout the United States and the world did not result in spikes in Covid-19 cases and deaths. As experts expected, virus particles in the outdoor air are more quickly diluted, and that has made spending time outside a much less risky activity than spending time indoors.

“The risk is definitely lower, Kimberly Prather, PhD, an atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told Elemental recently. “The primary reason is there’s just such a large volume of clean air.”

The summer months also make it possible for people in certain areas to spend more time doing activities and even socializing (safely!) outside. Now there’s some worry about the mental health impact of the looming fall and winter, when cold temperatures make outdoor life more difficult.

“Fall and winter will be bad,” Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter at the New York Times who covers Covid-19 extensively, recently tweeted. “So give yourself a mental and social break now, socialize outdoors responsibly, and build up stamina again for the long road ahead.”

But what about crowded outdoor spaces? “It depends how crowded,” says Robin Patel, MD, the president of the American Society for Microbiology. If you are able to easily distance from people who are not in your household, then an outdoor setting should be relatively safe. “But, if not, I would avoid that type of setting,” says Patel.

This also depends on where you are. In places where the transmission is low, the risk of being around people outside and getting Covid-19, especially if people are distancing, is much lower than in places where the spread of the virus is high. If you haven’t taken advantage of spending time outside, do so now if you can do it safely. It’s good for your mental health, and taking care of your mental health is going to be important for what’s to come.

Ahead of the weekend, read more about why you should spend your time outdoors.

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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