To Hike or Not to Hike

By Janet von Konsky Miller, MPH

3/24/20               

Today begins week 2 of the COVID-19 shelter in place mandate in Santa Clara County. When I started week 1, I was grateful that the mandate allowed me to hike. Getting out into nature using local trails was a welcome coping strategy to all of the changes the mandate influenced: work, social contact, economics, habits and routines. It is my happy place.

I quickly found that social distancing was difficult to commit to on the trail, however. Many other residents were also taking advantage of the ability to hike the local trails and staying 6 feet apart from other hikers on a narrow trail is at times impossible. What is an avid hiker to do?!

I heard some people are traveling to remote wilderness locations to get their nature and physical activity fix. While tempting, it warrants caution. Hikers who don’t know they have the virus risk exposing rural areas to the virus. Keep in mind the rural population tends to be older and has a reduced access to hospitals (seven percent of rural hospitals have closed in the past decade).1

While California open space and many parks remain open, this is subject to change.2 Traveling distances to get a nature fix may cause further closures of nature access. For instance, hikers have been urged to get off the PCT (access to supplies has been interrupted and risk of contaminating rural areas is a concern).3 Taking cue from other states, Montana locals are requesting Yellowstone be closed.4

“ ‘Ultimately, social distancing doesn’t mean traveling all over the place while making sure you’re six feet away from people.’ “.3

Remember, infected droplets from respiration can stay in the air for 3 hours. Smaller droplets stay in the air longer than large droplets, and smaller droplets are more likely to gain access to lung tissue. The larger droplets may dehydrate and become smaller droplets. Don’t forget that eyes are also a virus access point. And staying 6 feet away doesn’t mean you haven’t come into contact with the virus, but that there is less concentrations of the virus in the air which influences infection.5

Though remote hiking may pose less of a risk to hikers due to fewer people on the trail, it potentially brings the virus in to rural communities. Let’s take the “stay home” motto to heart. Find nature’s beauty in small things – the trees are beginning to blossom, and the bulbs are blooming. Get exercise at home. Stay active, stay local. Just for now. We can do this.

References:

1Forbes. (2020). How The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Is Impacting Rural America. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2020/03/17/coronavirus-and-rural-america/#50b4973de108

2Mercury News. (2020). Coronavirus parks closures in the Bay Area: Five things to know. Mar 23. Retrieved from https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/03/23/coronavirus-parks-closures-in-the-bay-area-five-things-to-know/

3LAist. (2020). Coronavirus Is Forcing Hikers To Quit The Pacific Crest Trail. Retrieved from https://laist.com/2020/03/23/coronavirus-pacific-crest-trail-pct-hikers-cancel.php

4Montana Free Press. (2020). Neighboring counties ask Yellowstone National Park to close. Retrieved from https://montanafreepress.org/2020/03/22/park-gallatin-counties-ask-yellowstone-national-park-to-close/

5UMN, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. (2020). COVID-19 transmission messages should hinge on science. Retrieved from http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/03/commentary-covid-19-transmission-messages-should-hinge-science