Is it safe to...
I've never asked myself that question so many times before. But during the coronavirus pandemic, it's always on the tip of my tongue. And as summer kicks off, I'm filling in the blank at the end of the prompt with: ...go to the beach?
As someone who grew up living a short drive away from the shore (yes, that shore), it's not an exaggeration to say that heading to the coast is a summer staple for my friends and family and myself. But like everyone, I'm trying to be mindful of my personal safety and the safety of those around me. So I asked Shannon Sovndal, MD, an emergency medical services medical director in Boulder, Colorado and the author of Fragile to weigh in on whether it's advisable to take a beach trip right now.
"The beach, in itself, is safe," he tells me. "It's an outdoor area, it's a wide open space." Dr. Sovndal says that you shouldn't be concerned about catching COVID-19 from beach-y activities like swimming in the water or sunbathing. The main problem when you're heading to the coast is social distancing.
"Social distancing is still the rule," Dr. Sovndal explains. "If you're going to the beach and it's crowded, you shouldn't be there. But if it's a beach that's open with scattered people, I think that it's totally fine. I would even do that myself." (By the way, social distancing applies on the sand and in the water.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention echo that advice. In their guidelines for visiting parks (including beaches), they emphasize the importance of keeping at least six feet between yourself and others, and avoiding crowded spots. The CDC also notes that it's up to state and local authorities to decide whether a particular beach should be open at all.
In the same spirit, during your beach trip, you should plan on chilling with the same group you've been quarantining with, not a whole new crew. "I wouldn't mix groups, meaning if my son wants to go to the beach with four of his friends, that's a bad idea," Dr. Sovndal says.
Worth mentioning: Some local authorities are saying that gatherings of larger groups are fine. In New Jersey, for instance, Governor Phil Murphy just announced that NJ would be allowing gatherings of up to 25 people. But if you read closely, many of these guidelines still require people in those groups to socially distance. And while it's smart to keep abreast of your local rules, for now, it's best to follow the CDC guidelines — even if they're stricter, Paul Pottinger, MD, a professor specializing in infectious disease at the University of Washington School of Medicine, previously told Refinery29.
Once you've gotten to the shore and you've claimed a spot that's sufficiently far away from others, a mask isn't necessary. But if you're going to be in close proximity to others — say, as you get on and off the sand, you're in a crowded parking lot, or if there's a public restroom you're using — then a face mask is definitely recommended. (You shouldn't wear one in the water; wet masks make it hard to breathe. But if it's off, be extra-diligent about keeping your distance from people.)
In all, as long as you're following the rules of social distancing closely, heading to the beach for some fun, sun, and sand shouldn't be a problem. Just remember your SPF.