Coronavirus has circulated more than just germs.

Feelings of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety have spread as fast as the virus itself.

Recently, we’ve seen widespread cancellations of events and closures of public spaces. Many children are not attending schools and you may be working from home or not working at all.

The world seems to be shutting down around us, and we’re being asked to practice social distancing by keeping a 6 foot (2 meter distance) from those not in our households.

It’s all too easy to start feeling isolated. It’s increasingly tempting to go outside to enjoy our new free time–and to avoid cabin fever. But we need to make sure that we aren’t risking our health or the health of others when we step out for some fresh air.

It’s also important not to overwhelm hospitals or emergency services by getting injured or needing assistance in or by the water.

If you’re feeling unsure of whether or not you’re able to use the water safely, don’t use the water. Exercise extra caution when you’re outside. Swimming, surfing, and other water activities can be risky. Be aware that if you are in trouble in the water, emergency services or those around you will have to use resources or break social distancing to save you.

Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero

What is social distancing?

Social distancing means steering clear of crowds and gatherings, abstaining from physical contact and contact with high-risk people, and keeping a distance of 6 feet (2 meters) from others.

Social distancing behaviours will help slow the spread of coronavirus and ‘flatten the curve’ of the virus so that hospitals are not overwhelmed.

Can I go outside during the coronavirus outbreak?

The answer to this question depends entirely on your location. You should always follow the strictest and best advice from health experts like the World Health Organization as well as your local government.

If swim season has been suspended in your area or there are beach closures (like those in Florida) you must take these measures very seriously.

Here is Swim Guide’s list of the U.S. states whose recreational water quality data we share with current beach access, closure information, and updates on recreational water quality monitoring programs.

Photo by katie wheeler

More and more American states have made beaches off limits, or at least off limits to non-locals, with strict limits on how many people can be in groups. If a beach is closed, respect the closure. These measures have been put in place to protect you as well as those around you.

Most countries that are being affected by the virus are in lockdown.

Going outside for non-essential reasons in these places is considered reckless behaviour. Unfortunately, the answer to whether or not we should go outside is going to start being ‘no’ more often, as the virus spreads.

Photo by Andrew Seaman

Countries in Europe have already implemented extremely strict regulations on going outside, including to parks and beaches. In France, you may be subjected to a fine if you are outside without a valid reason, though solo outdoor physical activity is allowed.

Both health experts and governments realize that going outside is important for our physical and mental health, which begs the question…

How can I safely go outside during the coronavirus outbreak?

If there are not regulations in place on going outside where you live, you must still take personal responsibility for your safety and the safety of others. You should only engage in in-person social contact with those in your household.

Social distancing outside means only visiting uncrowded parks and beaches during times when they are not busy. Be aware that many people are having the same idea to get outside during the outbreak.

Photo by Iris

If you arrive at the beach and find crowds, do not risk your health, or the health of those you love, or share your beaches with.

The beaches in your area may be open, but your chance of infection (and your chance of infecting others) will be much higher if you go to a beach packed with other people.

Survey the park, beach, or other area you want to visit from afar before getting too close. Is the area too packed for you to be able to keep a 6 foot (2 meter) distance from others? If this is the case, choose a different location for the time being or come back later if the coast is clear.

Photo by Federico Giampieri

You must also consider how you will get to the beach.

While the beach might be empty and accessible, you shouldn’t risk going there if the journey will expose you to others. Map out your journey to the beach, accounting for every step of the way from your door to the beach. Make sure that you will be a safe distance from others the whole time.

Luckily, lakes and oceans offer huge areas for safely satisfying your physical and mental health needs.

Open waters can allow you to follow social distancing behaviours while still enjoying nature and feeling like you’re a part of a community if we stagger our visits and don’t overcrowd.

Photo by Matt Zhou

Be extra cautious by the water during the coronavirus outbreak.

While it’s always essential to use the water safely, it’s especially vital right now. Hospitals and medical professionals are extremely busy treating people with coronavirus. Take extra precautions when you go to the water so that you can avoid needing medical attention and avoid putting even more strain on already overloaded hospitals.

Here are some general tips for water safety:

  • Never use the water alone. Be especially careful by the water if there are no lifeguards stationed, which will often be the case during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • If you’re visiting the water with your kids, make sure you know how to keep them safe.
  • Always check recreational water quality on Swim Guide before you head to the beach so you don’t get sick. Be aware than in some swimming spots, water sampling may not be occurring and there may not be current water quality data available.
  • Educate yourself about potential safety hazards that may be present in the water even if the water meets recreational water quality standards.
  • Photo by Peter Kaminski

    Should I go outside during the coronavirus outbreak?

    If you’re allowed to get outside in your community, and you know your social distancing rules, absolutely. Simply getting outside for some fresh air may seem like a complex process during the coronavirus outbreak, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go outside if we can do it legally and safely.

    Amidst concerns about our physical health during coronavirus, we need to take care of our mental health as well. Now, more than ever, we need to be engaged with others and with the world around us.

    There’s nothing wrong with a few hours of guilt-free Netflix binge watching–for a while. But it’s only a matter of time before your legs get stiff and your skin starts to yearn for daylight rather than blue light.

    Photo by June O

    What are the benefits of going to the beach during the coronavirus outbreak?

    Swimming in natural waterbodies is an excellent way to improve mental health. It releases endorphins, improves physical health, and reduces stress. Even better, it’s an inclusive, accessible, and affordable way to get outside.

    Photo by Jorge Fernández

    Going to the water is also a good way to disconnect from the near-constant barrage of bad news currently flooding our televisions, computers, and social media feeds. The World Health Organization recommends unplugging from the media periodically to help mitigate feelings of stress from the frequent coronavirus updates.

    There are many different ways to enjoy the beach. Three of our favourites? Walking, yoga, and open water swimming.

    Photo by Erik Dungan

    Maybe spring hasn’t quite sprung yet in your region, but you’d still like to use the water. If you want to get right into the water, make sure you know how to safely enjoy cold water. Even if you’re just planning on paddling, make sure you’re prepared for both cool temperatures and water quality concerns.

    Being active outdoors is a key step in self-care. Get outside, go to the water, and reconnect with the great outdoors!

    Going outside during the coronavirus outbreak: What’s the bottom line?

  • Whether or not you should go outside depends entirely on where you live and what regulations are in place there.
  • Familiarize yourself with your local regulations and remember that they may change day-to-day.
  • If you can safely and legally go outside, always follow social distancing behaviours as well as the advice of health experts and local governments.
  • Do not visit crowded outdoor locations or meet up with those outside your household.
  • Going outside will benefit your physical and mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. Whenever you’re outside, you can also benefit the environment that’s providing you with an opportunity to leave your house for a while.

    While you’re spending more time outside, you may notice litter on the ground. If you see litter, pick it up so that you can give back to the natural landscape currently affording you moments of respite during these difficult times.

    “Look back on this time as a really valuable experience, not only where we were protecting each other by stopping the spread of the virus and by staying home, but we also were getting back involved in some of the basics that it takes to protect these incredible waters that we get our recreation opportunities from.”

    – Mark Mattson, President of Swim Drink Fish and Waterkeeper

    Photo by Bo Eide

    Note: Many bathrooms and other facilities in public parks and beaches are closed, so plan accordingly. Bring water, snacks, and maps with you.

    To get the facts on coronavirus, visit the World Health Organization’s website and read their advice for the public.
    To find out how to keep a safe distance while outdoors, visit the National Recreation and Park Association’s website.
    To find a nearby park, visit Park People’s website.
    To stay connected with other beachgoers, tag pictures of yourself by the water with @swimguide and #swimguide.

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