COVID-19: How to enjoy B.C.'s beautiful outdoors responsibly while social distancing

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      These days, it can seem as if, apart from your own living room, nowhere is safe. From the office of the prime minister on down, the message we are getting on a daily basis is: stay home.

      It's good advice, because the prevailing wisdom, according to the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, among others, is that social distancing is one of the most effective strategies for slowing the spread of COVID-19. What exactly is social distancing? According to information posted by the BCCDC, "Social distancing is a way that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by limiting close contact with others. Even though we are not sick, we should still keep about two meters (six feet) or the length of a queen-sized bed from one another when we can when outside our homes."

      For many of us, the drive to get outdoors ramps up as we move into the warmer months. According to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, we should feel free to do so—mindfully.

      "It is okay, if you are not in self-isolation—yes, you can go outside. But go only with your family members in small groups and maintain those distances,” Henry said in a press briefing on Monday. “It is important for us to keep our health and mental health going as well through this.”

      In other words, get out there, but be vigilant about social distancing.

      Sadly, it is abundantly clear that many people are not getting the message. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, the Straight hit the nature trail at Coquitlam's Crystal Falls—and so did a lot of other people. This would not have been a big deal had everyone followed the basic principles of social distancing. Alas, a good number of hikers we encountered that day did not, blithely spreading themselves out across the entire width of the trail, seemingly oblivious to the close proximity of others.

      Stephen Hui is the author of 105 Hikes in and Around Southwestern British Columbia, and vice president of the Wanderung Outdoor Recreation Society. (He's also a former Georgia Straight editorial staffer, but we won't hold that against him.) Hui says that, if you still plan to go for a hike, combining trail etiquette and social-distancing protocols with a healthy dose of common sense is the way to go. 

      "For hiking there's kind of a general etiquette when you're passing people on the trail," Hui told the Straight in a telephone interview. "Whoever's going uphill has the right of way, and so if you were coming downhill, you would kind of step aside for them to go by. But now you have to be able to give them that six-foot berth, so if you're in an area where you can't do that—where it's unsafe to do that because there's a drop-off on either side or there's a sensitive environment that you don't want to trample—then that's not a trail that people should be doing."

      Hui also cautions against wandering into the backcountry or taking unnecessary risks in the woods. "The search-and-rescue people seem to be worried about their capacity to be able to respond to incidents," he says, "so I think people need to be extra cautious and extra safe and don't go as far afield or in as difficult terrain as they normally might want to, because they're just going to be putting other people at risk and stressing a system that really isn't ready to do all that stuff."

      For those who choose to get their fresh air closer to home, by visiting a city park or beach, the City of Vancouver has issued a set of guidelines, asking the public to:

      ● Keep at least 2 metres (6 feet) from others
      ● Visit parks and beaches during less busy times
      ● Limit the number of visits to parks and beaches to provide opportunities for others to access
      ● Avoid gathering in groups
      ● Limit high-touch recreational activities such as volleyball or frisbee
      ● Wash or sanitize hands after touching communal surfaces
      ● Stay home if you are feeling sick, especially if you are coughing or experiencing a fever

      If you choose to ignore the rules, you are putting your health and that of others at risk, and Hui says you should brace yourself for a trial by social media. "I think that if people go out in groups and flout the health officials' recommendations and orders, they're going to face some major public shaming when they post their photos on Instagram," he says. "So in some ways that is helping to regulate this a bit. People need to be responsible and think about other people."