Saturday, April 18, 2020

Why Outside Air is Safe and Park Closures Should End

During the past month, the fear of coronavirus had spurred political leaders to close parks and nature areas throughout the country.

In Washington State, all state parks and state lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources are closed through at least May 4.  Here in Seattle, all major city parks were closed last weekend and parking lots for city parks are still shuttered.  Picnicking, barbecuing, and any sports are illegal in Seattle parks.  In California, hundreds of state parks, including many major beach areas, have been closed, and parking has been blocked off for all state recreation facilities.


All of these closures are predicated upon the assumption that coronavirus infection is a serious threat in outside air and that virus spread is significant outdoors.  As documented in this blog, such an assumption is not consistent with the best science.  Furthermore,  there is strong evidence that restriction of public access to parks and natural areas threatens both the physical and mental well being of the population and thus is counterproductive.  Many politicians claim that parks must be closed to prevent large groups from gathering and spreading the virus.  As we will see, such worries appear to have little basis in fact.

Torrey Pine Beach north of San Diego Is closed 

Is Outside Air Safe?

After searching through the literature and talking to a number of doctors and researchers, I could not find a single paper suggesting significant outdoor transmission of COVID-19 or any coronavirus. But there is a huge literature and long historical experience suggesting that outside air is immensely safer than indoor air within constrained spaces.  Here are a few examples and some quotes from medical experts on this point:

  • Qian et al., 2020:   Examined 1245 confirmed cases in 120 cities in China and identified only a single outbreak in an outdoor environment, which involved two cases. 
  • Nishiura et al., 2020:  Transmission of COVID-19 in a closed environment was 18.7 times greater compared to an open-air environment (95% confidence interval).
  • Lidia Morawska, professor and director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.”: Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around... Firstly, any infectious droplets exhaled outside would be quickly diluted in outdoor air, so their concentrations would quickly become insignificant. “In addition, the stability of the virus outside is significantly shorter than inside. So outside is not really a problem...It is safe to go for a walk and jog and not to worry about the virus in the air”
Influenza patients were moved into the sunny, outside air to promote recovery during the 1918-1919 pandemic.
  • There is deep experience during other pandemics that placing patients outdoors greatly enhanced their recoveries and lessened spread to others.  In fact, during some pandemics (like 1918-1919) open-air hospitals were built and patients were moved outside into the sun, with very positive impacts.  To quote one paper on the subject ("The Open Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza", which documented the reduction of mortality and morbidity in the open air: "more might be gained by introducing high levels of natural ventilation or, indeed, by encouraging the public to spend as much time outdoors as possible." 
  • There is an extensive literature that ultraviolet radiation from the sun can quickly degrade the viability of viruses in the air (e.g., Schuit et al. 2020: The Influence of Simulated Sunlight on the Inactivation of Influenza Virus in Aerosols).  As noted by Lytle et al., 2005: "Sunlight or, more specifically, solar UV radiation (UV) acts as the principal natural virucide in the environment." Duan et. al. 2003 found that "UV irradiation can efficiently eliminate the viral infectivity"
  • A fascinating study of virus transmission in dorms at the University of Maryland compared students in rooms with poor ventilation, with those who kept their windows open all the time (Zhu et al., 2020).  Those with open windows had one-fourth the rate of respiratory infections. Some did complain of being cold, though.
  • Virus particles rapidly disperse in the open air as noted by Case Western Reserve University Hospitals infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Edwards: "When someone coughs or sneezes, most of the virus drops to the ground within 6 feet pretty quickly. That’s why doctors recommend social distancing. If a few particles remained in the air, they would be killed off by UV light in the sun, or blown away by the wind"


I could quote a lot more literature and from additional specialists, but you get the point.  Being in fresh, outside air, particularly when the sun is out, is clearly a good place to lessen one's exposure to COVID-19.

The risk of transmission of COVID-19 is extraordinarily less in outside air compared to within buildings.   There is essentially no background concentrations of the virus in outside air.  Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is destructive to the virus.  They is rapid dispersion of any source of virus (e.g., an infected coughing individual) by the wind in the vast outside volume of air.  And there is a substantial literature that concentration matters:  the more exposure to viral particles the greater the chance of infection. Viral concentrations will be very low outside, if they are measurable at all.

Another issue is humidity.   Viral transmission is degraded by high humidities and enhanced by lower humidities (check out this excellent recent review article: Moriyama et al. 2020);several papers suggest that relative humidities above 40% degrade transmission.   During the cool season, humidity inside building tends to be very low (check my earlier blog for an explanation), but outside humidities are generally much higher.  For example, below is a plot of the relative humidity in Seattle over the past three years.  Outside relative humidity only rarely drops below 40% around here.  Inside RH is often below 40% during the cool season.


Recently, there has been a lot of media attention regarding a simulation of particle dispersion from a coughing runner, with recommendations not to run directly behind him/her and particularly in the wake region behind the runner. There was some dramatic imagery (see below), but the risk from sick runners is really quite small.

First, there are not many runners coughing and sneezing while running--when someone is sick with the virus they have great fatigue and if they were asymptomatic carriers they would not be coughing! (Note:  there are some folks that cough after intense exercise).  Furthermore, the large virus-laden droplets tend to fall quickly and the smaller particles/droplets tend to follow the streamflow around an obstacle (that's you).  Most importantly, the droplets ejected from a sick runner would rapidly disperse in the free atmosphere and the UV radiation would work to lessen the viability of a virus.   Yes, there is a slipstream of air immediately behind a runner in which concentrations could be greater....but how many people are running immediately behind a sick runner? Even in the video, little of the particles reach the face of the runner following immediately behind.   Folks, this is a very small risk.


So let's get back to the policy decision to ban folks from parks and why it is illogical and contrary to common sense.

Hopefully, you are convinced that outside air is immensely more healthful with far less COVID-19 risk than the air we breathe inside of buildings.  You really want folks outside for that reason alone.

But what about social distancing?  If that is good, you want folks to spread out as much as possible. Thus, they should be ENCOURAGED to get their fresh air in vast open public spaces and particularly ones with lots of air motion (i.e. wind).


But yet that is exactly the opposite of what our political leadership is doing.  Here in Seattle, the Parks Department closed the largest parks in the city (like Magnuson, Lincoln and Discovery) last weekend, parks that afford great opportunities for social distancing (see map).  Many of these large parks (red X in the above figure) are near the water and experience stronger winds that are  particularly favorable for virus dispersal.  In contrast, the city left the smaller parks open, concentrating folks in small areas.  Just as bad is the closing of park parking lots, which forced folks to leave their cars outside of parks and to walk in narrow corridors (less social distancing) to enter the parks.

Magnuson Park was closed and everyone is forced to walk on the crowded path to the left.

In California, vast beach areas are closed, again forcing folks to stay indoors or crowd onto limited walkways.

All these park closures are based on fears of transmission within groups enjoying the parks.  But such closures do not make sense.   First, there is little evidence of viral spread in outdoor spaces, even when crowded.  Second, there is little evidence for such crowding in Washington State and California parks in other than the most isolated incidents.  I have been to several Seattle parks during the past weeks-- folks are generally careful and respectful, without large collections of folks in close proximity.  Obviously, park officials can make it clear that closely packed large crowds are not appropriate and that there will be giving warnings and citations if such crowds occur.   To put it succinctly, park closure is a solution in search of a problem that has never been shown to exist.  And it hurts exactly the people it is meant to help.

More Issues

Going to parks is extraordinarily good for physical and mental health.  Being outside exposes folks to the sun's UV rays that facilitate production of vitamin D, which bolsters the immune system and reduces the chance of infection by COVID-19 and other pathogens.  Recently, I got a call from a UW professor of medicine who is working on exactly this important relationship with COVID (he needed global UV/solar radiation data), confirming the above.   Vigorous exercise and even walking enhance the immune system, reducing chances of infection.  And exercise and fresh air have a very positive effect on mood, reducing stress and anxiety--both of which weaken the immune system,


And in a progressive city like Seattle, or in the progressive states of Washington or California, there are simple equity ideas that should be compelling.  Closing parks or making entry difficult hurts low income people the most.  Folks that live in small apartments or in crowded environments greatly enjoy the physical and emotional release of our wonderful large parks.  They are the ones who are most deprived by the park closings, both mentally and physically, in comparison to those with large homes and extensive garden areas.  And the closing of parking lots deprives the elderly and physically handicapped from the healthful conditions in our parks and the emotional salve of enjoying the outdoors.  I have noted the demographic shift in the park when the parking lots were closed.

In some ways, this is all about risk.  There is an extraordinarily small risk of catching COVID-19 while enjoying parks and natural areas.  I mean really, really small.   But park closures provide substantial risks that clearly threaten one's physical and mental health.  Our society is not particularly good in qualifying and acting upon risks, and the park closures are a prime example of this failure.

Sunset at Shoreline's Richmond Beach Park. 
Parking is closed and many cannot enjoy this view anymore

Governors Inslee, Cuomo, and Newsom have all stated that in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis it is essential to "follow the science."   It is time that they follow their own advice, reopening all the parks and nature areas, including the restoration of all parking facilities and access.

__________________________________________________

Addendum: A few commenters (and some politicians) have said that the parks should be closed because a few individuals did not practice sufficient social distancing in their evaluation.   So should everyone be punished and denied access to the parks because of a very small minority (the overwhelming number of park visitors are not gathering in groups)? 

Such communal punishment seems something out of a non-democratic society.   Plus, the dangers of isolated groups in the outside air is totally speculative and not based on any evidence.   Consider the situation on the highways.  Because some people are speeding and endangering others, do we stop EVERYONE from driving.   Of course not.  We warn them and give them tickets.   We can do the same thing in parks.

PSS: There are reasonable measures that could be done in parks, like closing active playgrounds and perhaps the bathrooms.  Places where many people are physically touching the same objects.




100 comments:

  1. Very glad to see this. I think it was appropriate in the early days to close things down (I heard reports of socializing akin to "tailgate parties" happening up at Artist's point) but now that we have a better idea of the virus and we're better at distancing and so forth, it's time to open up the public spaces. They could develop methods to keep things on the safer side: every other parking space, limited numbers at once, dedicated hours for certain age groups, don't open up the ranger stations or bathrooms, forbid congregation or hiking in groups, etc; not sure which if any of these are practical, especially the bathrooms issue, but it has become silly to see everyone here in Bellingham crowding the city trails for exercise when there are millions of acres of wilderness to the east, not to mention local state like Larrabee, etc. It seems clear that the benefits will outweigh the risks. There will likely be large numbers heading out there given how many are out of work and have cabin fever, but I think it can be handled.

    I am hopeful that it's not going to be long before leaders see the light on this.

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    1. Outdoors is good! Runners run past others and breath heavily --- micro droplets --- plus the wake. Runners should run on tracks with other runners. Parks are wonderful, but we have seen that people use parks as an excuse to gather and also play sports with balls, frisbees, etc that can transmit. virus. Parks, if opened, need lots of monitors to prohibit groups gathering. There should be no problem with people walking through parks, but socializing needs to remain online for now. We should all spend some time outdoors each day, even if it is only on a proch, deck or balcony.

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  2. Didn't they announce that parks would be open, yesterday?
    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattles-major-parks-will-be-open-this-weekend-but-with-some-new-guidelines-mayor-announces/

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    1. In Seattle. But the parking lots are still closed. State Parks are still closed

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  3. I'm all for opening parks and other outdoor recreation spaces. I completely agree with the benefits of outdoor activity. My concern is: who will be there to maintain these spaces and prevent vandalism and other unlawful activity? Would these park/rec workers be reclassified as essential and allowed/required to work?
    This could be the first phase of reactivating our society – let's put mental and physical health in the forefront of national recovery!

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  4. Thank you Cliff.

    You are, as Carl Sagan would say, "A Candle in the Dark".

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  5. Replies
    1. Oh yes...fishing: in a boat, on a lake; sun, gentle breezes; not a care in the world

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  6. I can understand closing the most popular parking lots but closing every forest and park is absurd. I have also ready multiple scientific studies that make it clear that so long as you avoid crowds of people and don't touch surfaces everyone else is touching you are safe. People need to relieve stess during these tough times and walking in a pretty area is an excelent way to reileve stess. There are millions of acres of forest and park plenty of room for people to spread out. Protest are starting to appear all over the country, government has banned even safe activities and frustrated people have no options. If the government doesn't want crowds of protester spreading the virus they need to allow people to do more safe activities.

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    1. Yes, there are millions of acres of forest and park to spread out, but somehow people ended up congregating in large numbers at popular places. As for "safe", there was a big surge in search and rescue operations. Finally, people were flooding small towns on the way to their outdoors adventures. The current set of closures isn't ideal, but I'm not sure what should have been done instead.

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    2. There are certain spots that are always over-crowded but there are many more spots that have few to no people, You are assuming that every spot is like the most crowded spots. Hiking is not that dangerous, I have been hiking 25 years without incident. How many seach and rescue incidents are we really talking about? Did the numbers surge from 1 search and rescue per month to 2 or 3?

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    3. I completely agree storm1.as a die hard fisherman i am not allowed to go out on a lake or the sound and be a minimum of 300 yards away from another boat is absolutely absurd. You are correct about there being more protests.people are getting restless.

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  7. Did you speaking with any parks employees or city leaders before you published this article? Parks are beloved, and these decisions are not made lightly. IF the public had done a better job of social distancing, staying home if they were sick, covering coughs/sneezes, etc. then parks might have been able to stay open. You have neglected a large amount of information here.

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    1. Your reply makes little to no sense.

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    2. ParkFan.... why do you think the public did a bad job at social distancing? And if a few people are closer than you like, EVERYONE should be punished by denying them access to the parks? I have been too many parks and never saw much of a problem. And even if people were closer than you liked, their chances of spreading disease is very, very low. Just keep away from them.....cliff

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    3. yeah cliff, for a man of science, there's a lot of "from what i've seen" and "a few people" and "low chance" in your arguments.
      this isn't a time for vague notions of what is safe. now, from what i've seen, from the beach to the pot shop, is people absolutely were not observing proper social distancing. you put far too much faith in people not to be stupid. there simply were no small, isolated groups on the beach because each group was next to another and constantly passing eachother. and most importantly, who is going to patrol all of these folks when they disobey the 6 ft order?
      it's as if you don't believe the science on social distancing, or think the rules are somehow bendable.

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    4. Worth pointing out that social distancing guidelines are based on indoor air environments. Six feet comes from studies of how close folks had to be seated in a commercial aircraft to get infected from someone else during the original SARS outbreak (seat reservations are an awesome dataset for contact tracing!). Even though covid-19 looks to be a bit more infectious than the original SARS, the difference between indoor and outdoor air is enormous; most folks don't realize how much air circulation there is even on calm days. So insisting on 6' distancing outside is likely massive overkill.

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    5. Some people drive cars irresponsibly... lets ban cars. Some people drink irresponsibly... lets ban drinking.

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  8. Thank you Cliff. Shed Fear. Embrace Reason

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  9. I have heard talk of a ballot initiative to strip the governor of the authority to implement many of the closures seen recently, without a vote of the legislature. As useful as it can be to have this authority in times of emergency, the park closures are an example of why it might be necessary to put a lid on these powers. They're unnecessary steps, they're harmful to the public, and they're the trigger point for resentmnent and frustration.

    Personally, I intend to ignore the state land closure orders after May 4. I'm about as middle of the road as it gets politically, but this issue resonates with me, and the time to take a stronger stand is fast approaching.

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    1. People do not distance. Runners run by very close, trails do not accomodate distancing, many people do not even try. That is NOT SAFE

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    2. Again, social distancing guidelines are built around the assumption of indoor air environments. Dilution and air flow outside meant that 6 feet is likely unnecessary in outdoor air. Also worth considering the time it takes for a runner to pass (what, a couple of seconds?). It took a 2.5 hour exposure to get lots of aerosol transmission in the ill-fated choir rehearsal.

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  10. I hope Governor Inslee reads your blog. I sent him an email not too long ago commending him on the job he has done during this health emergency. He needs to trust the people of Washington now. Due to unfortunate circumstances we were chosen to lead the way in this crisis; I have total confidence, we can lead the way out.

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  11. Love your stuff as always, Cliff, and I suspect you are correct here. Having said that, I think it's important to understand the governor's action (and the actions of other civic leaders) was not taken in a vacuum. There was massive overcrowding at some of our public places and on many of our local hiking trails just prior to the governor's order, and social distancing was not being practiced in the slightest (as a moderator for a Washington hiking group on Facebook with over 100,000 members, I can tell you the photographs we were seeing were frightening). Something had to be done to curtail that. Now that, hopefully, we are starting to get a handle on that, our thinking about the best way to handle the current situation can evolve. Yes, let's open things up, but in a way that takes advantage of our peculiar geographic advantages (see for example, your comments about large parks that typically experience strong winds), and permit us to implement social distancing practices. And I still think it's a good idea for people to stay local, and not be crisscrossing the state in search of "the most beautiful hike." I suspect local politicians are moving in this direction.

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    1. This is the best response on here. People were being complete fools about social distancing. That's when government has to step in. It's valuable to point out that outside air might be better, but it's irresponsible to be stoking the flames of "damn our leaders for impinging our freedoms" right now.

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    2. But our leaders are imposing on our freedom, the science shows that it is safe to visit a park. If the government tries to take away our freedom without a good reason we have to speak up. Alot of people think that the protesters are crazy/inconsiderate but some of these protesters just want the government to listen to scientists. I suspect there will be more protests if the government doesn't act alittle more reasonably.

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  12. It is worth a mention that the densely populated cities are spatially a small part of Washington State. We live 100 miles east of Seattle in rural Kittitas County. Our nearest neighbors are 240 yards away, and this is a very windy area. Today the sustained has been between 20 and 30, with gusts to 36 mph.
    The County has no deaths [ZERO] and few confirmed cases.
    Inslee and his colleagues are destroying (have destroyed) livelihoods and wealth, much ruined forever.
    There is no excuse.

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  13. First, your "science" on UV inactivating the virus is missing the key fact that UVC that does not teach the Earth's surface is the only significant wavelength of UV that inactivates viral DNA/RNA. So no, solar radiation near the Earth's surface where we live will do little to inactivate the virus. It's clear you cherry picked your articles here... 🙄 One uses only UVC and makes this same point.

    I do not know about Seattle parks but trails in western WA were being overrun with people according to social media, search and rescue groups, and my own experience living near a rural trail system. What was being seen in mid March was an enormous influx of people to trails, way more than is normally seen on a busy summer weekend, with large groups on small trails, overflowing parking lots, etc. I firmly believe that had people acted normally and stayed nearer to home and gotten outside as they normally would have, this wouldn't have been an issue, and there would not have been park/trail closures.

    As for runners... We are a stubborn bunch. Runners run when sick, when injured... And when asymptomatic but still contagious. Ask any serious runner if they've run when sick before, and I doubt you will find many who haven't. And snot rockets, coughing from unintentionally swallowing bugs, seasonal allergies and sneezing... I say this as a runner married to a runner with many runner friends... Thinking that runners are some aseptic bunch is illogical at best.

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    1. Amanda.... that is not correct. Several of the studies did consider UV-B or natural total UV reaching the surface. Runners are not nececessarily aseptic, but the risk from even a sick runner is slight. I should note there is not a single documentation of transmission from a sick runner to others. This is all extreme speculation...cliff

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  14. I do wonder who if anyone was consulted before park closures became a standard response. Of course there are rationales of keeping park employees from having to interact with people, rescues, etc. I don't think that is a sufficient answer though, especially in light of the balancing benefits that you have partially documented. At parks that are more prone to crowding, simply restrict how many are allowed (like some state parks normally do) and ticket any obvious grouping of more than a few people. I really don't think search and rescue poses a likely way of COVID transmission. I would be fine with closing buildings and probably playground structures, but not water access or trails. You mention the role of solar radiation in degrading viruses on surfaces, but for those of us willing to be outside in 'foul' weather there should be practically no risk of exposure. Strong winds and rain should almost totally remove viruses from the air and exposed surfaces.

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  15. Yes, yes, a thousand times Yes. People in authority please listen to this

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  16. Yeah. Sorry, but most of your reasoning is weak and you never take into account the real problem - people coming from elsewhere. The weekend before Sonoma County closed our beaches we had THOUSANDS of people driving up from Marin and San Francisco. It was busier than the 4th of July.

    IT ISNT JUST ABOUT PEOPLE GOING TO PARKS.

    They will come from all over, WHICH OPENS UP THE VECTOR FOR SPREAD.

    Especially ironic to read this as photos from Jacksonville beaches go up. You give the public WAY too much credit. KEEP IT ALL CLOSED.

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    1. As cliff points out science shows the virus isn't likely to spread in a park environment. Maybe you need to close the campgrounds and the most popular trailheads but most of the forest can remain open to dispersed hiking, fishing. A sick person does not want to exercise, the people that do go to the wilderness tend to be the healthier ones. Most people are just there for an afternoon of hiking/fishing they will avoid town if that is what is expected. Before you tell people to avoid towns for the forseable future you should ask yourse'f if these towns can go a year or two without tourism dollars because we won't have a vaccine for quite some time.

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  17. More Data to Support Cliff's theory: "We identified only a single outbreak in an outdoor environment, which involved two cases. The first salient feature of the 318 identified outbreaks that involved three or more cases is that they all occurred in indoor environments." https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058v1

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  18. You might as well add bike trails to the list of places that need to be opened. Last weekend we went for a bike ride on the lovely Willapa Hills Trail in Lewis County. The bike parking lot was gated off forcing people to park their vehicles alongside a heavily traveled road jeopardizing their safety.

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    1. people were not forced to park along a heavily traveled road, it was a choice, a series of choices, to ignore the stay at home order, to go to a closed park, and yes, to park alongside a heavily traveled road to enter a closed park.

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  19. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In the space of a few months there has not been enough time to generate statistically significant, controlled sample sizes to quantify the risk of outdoor exposure in crowded parks. Any results at this time are anecdotal.

    In your post, the high risk of indoor infection is compared to what must be a lower risk outdoors. Who’s going to seriously argue that? Okay, I will. If I’m at home with my family and none of us has it, the risk of indoor exposure is ZERO. If I go to an outdoor park where there will be unmasked asymptomatic people shedding virus particles, the chance goes UP. Without a vaccine, the only way to beat this is to stop person to person transmission. Gathering in dense groups in parks, particularly urban parks, is the exact opposite.

    If parks open up before the infection count drops to very low levels, I’m out. Enjoy yourselves.

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    1. Are we trying to "flatten the curve" so as to not overload the medical system at a point in time? Or are we trying to wipe out the virus completely (R<1). The Possibility of a vaccine is still 18-24 months out. Possibility! And when you take into account asymptomatic cases the fatality rate of this disease is quite low. Everyone will have to find their own comfort level but for many of us (I'd gather a majority of us sooner than later) we're willing to balance that risk against maintaining a higher quality of life than the current Stay-At-Home order allows. I'm particularly concerned about the academic, social and emotional impact this has on children. Not to mention the 20 million+ unemployed. The original decision was a good one but it's time to temper it and find a more reasonable balancing point. If you want to self-isolate for the next two years that's your choice.

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    2. Economic privation and social isolation kill just as surely as the virus. We haven't crossed that tipping point yet where the former is more deadly than the latter, but one can see it in the dustance from here. One thing I'm pretty sure about is this will be a one-time event simply because people won't tolerate a second round of shutdowns. We had better get our test-and-trace capabilities up to par because they're going to be the only politically, economically, and socially viable response to any future COVID-19 outbreaks.

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  20. Thanks for speaking truth to power Cliff. In these stressful times, it's good to see you fight the big battles. No, I dont mean the limited nationwide testing or the fact the feds ignored the virus for 2 months, but rather Seattle closing the parks for 1 weekend! You're right to use science and empirical evidence to point out flaws in governmental response but you seem to only apply logic and accountability to decisions made by Democrats. Its baffling; its like your willfully ignoring the 100's of mistakes by the Republicans (who control 2/3 of federal government) and focusing instead on whatever mistakes you can find from Democrats. Washington is doing great in the fight against Covid and its not thanks to Republican policies.

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    1. Ben....there are huge problems on the national level. But closing the parks in WA State and CA are being done in states controlled by the Democrats. If we are going to demand rational actions on the national level, don't you think we should demonstrate rationality and use of science on the local level?...cliff

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  21. To the best of my limited knowledge, your premise is 100% correct...as far as it goes.
    In Australia, though, parks are open but there are strong restrictions on touching anything, even sitting on benches.
    We're not going to get COVID from walking around, and it's important to have that clear- we stand a not insignificant chance of getting it from restrooms, gates, doors, benches, and play areas. If parks are open, there have to be restrooms available. Additionally, someone has to clean and maintain them...any volunteers?

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    1. Andy...the play area may need to remain closed. Bathrooms could initially be closed or they could be serviced by city employees that have already experienced COVID or were provided the PPE that allow them to safely work. We can solve this...cliff

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  22. The host of MedCram, an intensive-care specialist who has been covering this virus, just released a video about how time spent in a forest setting can boost our immune system. He calls it "forest bathing."
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgDjVEpEOdQ

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  23. Yes I agree; closure of parks in Seattle makes little sense. Ditto for closures of National Forest trailheads and State Parks. People need to get outside and even a trailhead crowded with cars conforms to rules of social distancing (6 or more feet apart). Outside activity is not going to worsen the pandemics but lack of it will undermine health and well-being of citizens.

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    1. In a perfect world all this makes sense. Yesterday, reported on KOMO news, in Clark county 5 individuals decided to go on a hike and they ran into problems and 3 had to be rescued. This exposed more than a few first responders.
      My opinion is that this is why they don't want people at the parks and trails. People being what they are will want to get together and play games, get into fights, get lost in the forest. The powers that be don't want to have to have the police, park dept people, search and rescue to go out and take care of these individuals who just can't stay home.

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    2. This is a case of news stations cherry picking their data to paint a misleading picture. Alot more than 5 people went hiking but many of them are afraid to say they went hiking. I have been hiking for 25 years doing 50+ hikes per year and I have never needed to be rescued. Driving you're care to the store is more dangerous than going on a hike. Does the richest country in the world really not have the resources to rescue a few hikers per month?

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    3. It would be safer to open up some of the main trails then people wouldn't be trying to sneak onto the less safe less well known trails. I know someone who desperately needed to get out of their tiny aparment, because of all the closures they were forced to hike a trail they had never hiked before. They had enough experience with a map and compass to not get lost but someone new to hiking might have gotten lost. They also had a black bear get a little closer to them then they would have liked. The black bear wouldn't have been so bold if there were a few other people around.

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  24. Very well said Cliff!! You make a very sound case. I am baffled by those that deny the facts and want to control others lives by using fear. Life is ALWAYS going to be bit risky, time to get outdoors and live it!!

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  25. Thank you, Cliff. I would appreciate more insight into the UV discussion in the comments with Amanda. Which type of UV that reaches the ground in sufficient quantity to kill this virus?

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  26. Thank you for the post. The facilities at the parks are the riskiest place for transmission. Can you expound more on the types of UV rays and their impact on viruses at ground level. Your discussion with Amanda left me confused.

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    1. My understanding is that the UVB rays (that is, between about 290 and 310 nanometer wavelength) at the surface are sufficient to kill viruses and such after a couple of hours if the sun is high in the sky (which is to say, henceforth in the midday hours for now into September for the Seattle area, except under heavy clouds).

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  27. Several commenters agree with you that it makes sense to close park bathrooms, at least from a public health perspective. It does not, even from a public health perspective, anywhere there are more than a few unsheltered homeless people. We do not need things like cholera on top of COVID-19.

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  28. Thank you for the post Cliff, here in Montana we have not enacted or enforced any real outdoor closures with the exception of closing national parks. If the hypothesis is that outdoor spaces need to close to limit viral transmission then the data from Montana is not supportive of that stance.

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  29. The only reason that they closed some parks Easter weekend is because people were breaking social distancing rules; I saw it happening in Tacoma on Good Friday--people gathering in large groups, close together, getting out of multiple cars and not following the rules.

    If people would follow the rules, social distance even when outside, then this would not be needed.

    And the police dept doesn't have the man power (nor should they have to ) roam the parks and tell everyone to stay apart.

    These folks who ignore social distancing rules are why the rest of us are stuck. If they would just freaking social distance.

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  30. Cliff, thanks so much for taking the time to share all this info and analysis. Re UV, I tried to read the Lytle document and, for the life of me, couldn't figure out the D37 columns in the tables. Is a low number better? Or higher? Like some of the others, I'd read about UVC being used in disinfecting PPE and the observation that UVC wasn't present at sea level. So in Table 2, the Coronaviridae D37 value is 2.5-3.9 versus much higher #s for many of the others in the table. Can you pls provide some perspective on what that means? Smaller amount of UV required to inactivate? (good) Or less inactivation per unit of UV? (bad) Thanks again for all you do.

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    1. Yeah, I read it too, and it sounds like they did not fully study the effect of UVB, which is also germicidal. While the sun generates UVC, the ozone layer blocks it all, below about 15 miles up I think. But the UVB is much stronger in our area now than it was a couple months ago, because the sun is higher in the sky.

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  31. Cliff, in my area I have been advocating for people to exercise and noted that closing State lands has only concentrated pedestrians exercising on paved roadways which carries its own risk. Here is a link to a study and quote below that goes into the scientific basis for the antioxidant protection produced by exercise.

    "Regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with the COVID-19 virus, a top exercise researcher reports. He is urging people to exercise based on his findings, which also suggest a potential treatment approach."

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-04/uovh-cem041520.php

    Chris H.
    Heli-free North Cascades

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  32. YESSSS !! Once again - Cliff - you are THE "SCIENTIFIC voice of reason" - challenging yet another action / decision made by "the all- knowing / all-powerful experts" taken / made partially based on science .. BUT ... MOSTLY taken / made by emotion & "power-wielding". You are SPOT-ON when you point out that FOR "OUR"HEALTH ( mental & physical ) it is imperative that people need to venture out into our parks - and that our elected officials need MORE than just a "reminder" that we ARE a FREE democracy where TRUST in the citizenry MUST be a supreme factor/value in their decision-making ! Tusen takk Cliff !!! :)

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  33. It's anecdotal, but I really believe that many or most of the infections at Mardi Gras, and over Spring Break, we're probably from indoor activities. Nightclubs, bars, restaurants, hotels etc., were most likely the main source of infections. Plenty of other risky behavior goes on at Mardi Gras, and Spring Break. The beaches and parks are important to our health. If you are at risk, stay home. Thanks for the informative blog Cliff!

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    1. Completely agree. "If you are at risk, stay home." Let the rest of us live. According to Gov. Cuomo no one in New York died from lack of medical equipment or beds. If fact, one of my military buddies has stated the the USNS Comfort ship in New York has remained 90% empty. His son who serves in the Airforce can't get a needed ACL surgery due to reserving hospital beds that for COVID-19 patients that don't exist. Nurses and doctors in many areas including my home town of Portland are being furloughed because they have no patients. The original goal of flattening the curve was to not overwhelm the health care system. Now it seems the goal is to prevent everybody from being exposed, or perhaps there are political motives. Check out the following aricle: https://americanconsequences.com/the-big-lie-behind-covid-19/

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  34. Cliff,

    WOW, so many comments--great topic!

    At first, I was overly cautious about park exposure. Now, I understand how to take reasonable precautions in parks and time has shown that they work. Thanks for leading this discussion!

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  35. Interesting that Torrey Pine Beach was chosen to illustrate California beach closures. :)

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  36. In Italy, the guy who was "patient 1" infected one of his running buddies before coming down with symptoms. So I wouldn't completely dismiss that. There's a lot we don't know.

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    1. David...there is no indication that he infected one of his friends outdoors. Can you provide any evidence of that?...cliff

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    2. Great post. Open the parks. Here's an article on the runner infecting a friend he went running with (athough it's obviously possible he transmitted it from a handshake or hug pre/post run)

      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8050705/Trail-Italian-coronavirus-super-spreader-Marathon-runner-38-heart-crisis-Europe.html

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  37. Right on, Cliff! But are the politicians reading your blog? Someone needs to make sure they see this information.

    BTW, I skied up two mountains today with (one) friend. Started from Crystal Mountain parking lot. But we had to go around a barrier in the road, which, however, was not impassible. Were it not for the fact that a number of people live up there, the road would probably have been closed effectively.

    I don't like to be a scofflaw, but this is the closest thing I have ever seen to a totalitarian state, which is something which I would never tolerate. While the intention may be good, the cost/benefit analysis is faulty, as you say.

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  38. Maybe open city parks--opening state parks doesn't seem safe at this point. People typically spend at least half a day to go to those parks, including travel time, so you'd either have to leave restrooms open (as you said yourself, probably not a good idea) or people would converge into the public restrooms in nearby small towns (an even worse idea).

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  39. I agree that local parks where there are no bathrooms, but there are walking trails and biking trails SHOULD be open. However, it is also important that this is ONLY for local use. Those of us who live near large, popular parks which are over an hour from a large population center do not want infected people visiting. Been there, done that, not happy about it.

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  40. Sweden has only prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people. The disease has had there the same course as in other countries.

    Here in Seattle, I observe people walking onto the street and often jaywalking just to avoid being closer than 6 feet. It's totally counter productive. Everybody is scared, of what? Way more people die with the flu every year. Makes no sense.

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  41. The CM voice of sanity strikes again! Thank you, Cliff.

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  42. Closing bathrooms is not a good idea. You will see lots of folks peeing behind trees. If you touch surfaces, wash your hands.

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  43. Here is another paper looking at virus transmission: Of the 1245 cases included in the study there were only 2 cases with transmission in an outdoor setting but it involved a conversation between the two people. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058v1

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  44. A key reason that parks and public lands were closed was to discourage people traveling around the sound. The first part of the governors order in WA was to "Stay Home,...!". Yes the outdoors are a great way to socially distance but if that means thousands of King and Pierce county residents flood rural areas, I'm not sure those rural areas would feel similarly enthused with public lands opening up. I think city parks are a different story, where most of the users are probably local.

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  45. Major "like" to this, Dr. Mass.

    The loudest voices on the side of extreme restrictions and on the side of prolonged restrictions seem to be among people of privilege . . . really easy to say "keep the parks closed" when you have a large home and a spacious backyard. Really easy to say "keep the economy shut down until all risk has passed" when you are in a job that you can do at home and collect a paycheck every two weeks. Many of the folks who think of themselves as "friends of the 'working class'" are anything but.

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  46. Speaking as someone who works for a city government, I can tell you that the amount of staff, time and money to find a path forward quickly in this unprecedented moment where we don't have time or enough data to come to a consensus about the science - it's impossible to do it well. Everyone thinks they're an expert, and is quick to tell agencies what idiots they are. Sure, nice to see some studies. Are public health agencies fallible? Sure, but they are going on the info they get from other leaders in public health research and science. To run a city during a pandemic means making the best decision you can with the info, staff, and resources that you have. The general public has no idea how complex it is to run a city, or a city department. Why people can't get that everyone is doing the best they can in the situation is beyond me.

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  47. Unknown... I am very sympathetic to your point. Maybe in this kind of unprecedented situation it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make optimal decisions. I understand that. But now, as the crisis starts to fade a bit, hopefully there can be course corrections to make things better. And talking about such decisions is always appropriate. We can even have different viewpoints without calling someone an "idiot"--something I did not do in my blog

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  48. I live in southern Oregon, and posted your blog on my page. I am one of the fragile ones who both is at risk for this virus and for the same reasons need to get outside and on the trail to improve some of those conditions (which include lung problems, swollen legs, etc. I am 76). But there is a another dimension - the spiritual one. I live in a tiny apartment with no real views, and cherish my time outdoors for my sanity and spiritual wholeness. And what is worse, I am a botanist, and it is spring! I don't need to see the neighbor' gardens, I need to see what our native plants are doing in spring. So, I am risking it. We have the same closures of parking lots here, leaving me no handicapped parking to get to some of my places easier. (I don't walk far off the roads).
    I appreciate this conversation and the blog, and am working here to get some places open. We do have a couple of crowded trailheads and parking lots in spring that must be kept closed. Others are just compounding problems.
    PS, A lot would depend on the wind. I am so adverse to smelling cigarette smoke that I claim to smell it a football field away! This is an exaggeration, but there is a reason for our laws prohibiting smoking 10' from a door! If the wind is right, 6' is not enough!

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  49. Most of the reactions I have seen related to can be broken down into 2 categories: fight or flight.

    Some of our elected leaders and highly qualified experts in their fields have reacted with fear. Closing of parks and other open areas where we go to get away from the rat race and more specifically each other, is part of that fear response.

    Leaders in other areas of the country have reacted differently. For example, the national forests, monuments and grasslands in the USFS Rocky Mountain region are not completely closed like they are in the PNW region. They have limits on the number of people allowed to be together in one place. Some are 10 people while others are 2 but still are open and perfectly suited to doing the one thing I believe we all can agree is right: stay away from each other.

    It is time for our local elected and appointed leaders to stop responding to fear. It's time reopen the places where we can practice social distancing instead of allowing/encouraging us to frequent those places where we cannot.

    They were elected/appointed to govern not rule.

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    1. Part of the reason why people are panicking is our leaders our panicing. Our leaders could set a good example by listening to the scientists and allowing people to do safe activities. This more rational response would help quell the publics fear.

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  50. Fishing...
    Fishermen in Washington State did not remotely practice responsible "social distancing" rules.
    They were loading 4, 5 & 6 fishermen in some boats, including fishing guides.
    Fishermen were congregating at busy boat ramps in each others faces like nothing was going on.
    Fishermen were sitting elbow to elbow in areas on rivers and lakes.
    And something none of you've talked about which pertains to others other than fishermen..."carpooling".
    Groups of people getting together for some of these "outdoor" outings are not going to drive 4 separate rigs to a river or lake an hour away or so.
    So you stuff 4 guys into the front of a pickup truck and drive to & fro...good way for somebody(s) to get infected...and nobody knows for sure if they or others are infected and contagious.

    These same issues took place in Oregon as well and got some popular fishing areas shut down...such as Meldrum Bar in the Oregon City area on the Willamette.

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    1. The ticket everyone on the overcrowded boats, don't punish everyone for the minorities rule breaking. Also kind in mind that family members are going to be in close proximity no matter what, they have to live together so trying to separate them is kind of pointless.

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    2. Those fishermen have to feed their families, and us. It may not always be possible to have a lower number of fishermen on a boat. The mortality rate of this virus is low. When we go to the grocery store and the shelves are empty, maybe we will open our eyes.

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  51. stay at home orders mean stay at home- sorry Cliff, but because of all the travel and exchange happening to get to and from parks, and the need to keep our healthcare system from being overrun, stay at home, please!

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  52. I'm with Cliff on this mostly. The jungle gyms have had to be closed even when the parks are open, understandably. The other problem, hardly mentioned in the discussion or the comments, is the need for restrooms, and the inevitable contact with droplets, etc., that occur there, and the need to maintain them. So I kind of understand why closures may have to happen in some parks.

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    1. Most people realize restrooms are not open and will keep their hikes short. Most people can do a short hike without needing to use the restroom. How hard is it to use the restroom before you leave you're house? On rare occasions someone doing a longer hike in the national forest/wilderness area needs to use a restroom there are plenty of trees/bushes. There are so few of these long distance hikers and so many trees/bushes in the wilderness it won't have a noticeable effect. Long distance hikers have had to do this for decades and no one has complained.

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  53. Cliff, you should run for governor!

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  54. the problem I have right now is the lack of open bathrooms in parks. No place to go means short visits, or no visits if it takes a while to get someplace. I suspect that a lot of the reason why many parks and beaches are closed is that need to eliminate the use of restrooms.

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  55. Responsible social distancing in parks = enjoyment for all

    Overcrowding, or irresponsible social distancing in parks (e.g. sweaty pickup basketball games) = punishment for all. Out here on Whidbey, it is the later that caused many parks on the southend to be closed... Your science may be spot on Cliff, but the assumption of human stupidity from a very few not being a factor is not (just think of what would happen if a supper spreader emerged in any of these parks... or if situations like the Mount Vernon Choir group repeated itself - these are the events we are trying to minimize)

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  56. Here in B.C. a few parks remain open at this time. They’ve taken proper precautions like closing off picnic tables, benches, even urinals or hand dryers, replacing the driers with paper towels. One way trails and signs with extra park patrols. Gates
    are fixed open and gathering spots are closed with orange “snow fencing” and again more signs. We can do this people....behave and reopen most parks.
    Thank you Cliff for stating the facts and speaking the truth. Peace.

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  57. Here's a spreadsheet (WA-only) that I've produced which auto-imports John Hopkin's COVID-19 data. It shows that COVID-19 (so far) is a non-event in so many places in our region. For that reason alone, we should be opening up.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1EztQ69s80ATZj64WVOEx4eezYAWTKp2nppyHOyUEY58/edit#gid=1157182735

    It's so silly to see all the closures in our area (N. Peninsula). When fear takes over commonsense dies. Studies have shown that just walking in the forest increases natural killer cells in the body:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgDjVEpEOdQ

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  58. I don't think anyone disputes the positive values of being outside or the diminished risk of contracting or spreading the virus outdoors. Two points, though. The risk is lessened outside, but the risk of contagion in crowds persist. Pack a beach, park or trail system and at some point the ability to maintain social distancing, or that sufficient for the "magic" of UV rays and tendency for aerosolized particles to dissipate are compromised. The risk for spreading or contracting the virus is further increased by congregating people at various "choke points," like stores or other vendors adjacent these outdoor areas. I'd love to travel to a national park or my favorite river to fish, but hesitate knowing that I could serve as a vector of transmission from an area of high COVID occurrence to one of relatively low incidents. Finally, your point that sick people don't run completely misses the point that an individual can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus - I'm surprised you missed this critical point as it has been widely discussed both in the literature and media. In sum, yes, let's make reasoned, empirically based decisions as you suggest, but please, let's do so with all the facts at hand.

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  59. Not if you're close to and downwind from someone who happens to be infected and is huffing and puffing. Nope, not safe.* Droplets and aerosols--avoid them. Also: wash your hands, sanitize your purchases, wear a mask if you're going to be around people (grocery store; clinic; that's about it), and stay home--it's saving lives. When we're getting to the tapering end of that ski run that is the oft-mentioned "curve," we might consider returning to a semblance of normal. My answer to how long I'm going to "self-quarantine," (I say "be sequestered"): until there's a treatment that works (not hydroxyTrumpOquine) and/or a vaccine is shown to be effective and I've received it. Period. *I'm editing this after having read Cliff Mass' argument. I totally agree that outside air is much safer than inside air when it comes to virus transmission. I have advocated for people to "get outside" into the fresh air, exercise, smell the roses from the beginning of this pandemic. It isn't so much that being "around" other people outside is unsafe, but it's a matter of what people do when they're outside. The natural tendency is to congregate. Sadly, not everyone gets it that you cannot proceed with normal behaviors just because you're outdoors. The risk does NOT drop to zero. Thus: rules, closures, recommendations. So, in this case, it has more to do with human behavior rather than science-supported viral behavior. Both must be taken into account. www.sandyrock.com

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  60. A German study shows that the incidence of mortality for COVID-19 is 0.4%

    https://reason.com/2020/04/09/preliminary-german-study-shows-a-covid-19-infection-fatality-rate-of-about-0-4-percent/#comments

    The study concludes:

    "[The German researchers] believe these findings show that lockdowns can begin to be lifted, as long as people maintain high levels of hygiene to keep COVID-19 under control".

    Just wash your hands!

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  61. I have to respectfully disagree with you, Cliff this time. Any movement out of one's house increases the risk of injury that might require medical attention and to be treated by health care workers, many in distress, and with limited resources. Opening the parks would no doubt increase the number of people driving on highways and highway fatalities are the #1 reason for mortality among young adults. Rural highways, often used to access hiking trails, are the most dangerous statistically. Why would we want to increase patient loads in hospitals especially rural ones at this time? Second, I don't see any of the commenters above who want to open the parks to volunteer to clean the bathrooms, pick up the trash, provide first-aid or otherwise maintain the facilities and supervise social distancing. How about the workers who would have to clean up every day? Their and their families' health and exposure do not matter?

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  62. Than you! Great science and sense.

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  63. Seattle parks are one thing, but you kissed the big picture on state parks and campgrounds. The little towns that surround them don't have the resources or supplies for an influx of people right now. The little town near my vacation place had their grocery store inundated and cleaned out by out-of-towners. They don't have healthcare resources to spare and can't afford to have their (mostly volunteer) first responders quarantined. Open up city parks, but don't let people pack in shoulder to shoulder like they were. And stick close to home.

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