Senseless Restrictions on Outdoor Activities Undermine the Goal of Curbing COVID-19
Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many questions about the virus that causes the disease, including the infection fatality rate, the significance of mutations, and the efficacy of lockdowns, remain controversial. But epidemiologists and public health specialists have reached a consensus on at least one point: The risk of virus transmission is much lower in outdoor settings than it is indoors, especially when the latter spaces are poorly ventilated, crowded, and occupied by people who are expelling a lot of respiratory droplets by talking, singing, coughing, or sneezing. Yet some state and local governments have responded to the ongoing surge in newly identified infections by imposing irrational restrictions on outdoor activities that are bound to test the patience of Americans as they try to “hang in there” until vaccines are widely available.
Under a two-week order that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued this month, golf courses and state parks “must reduce in-person operations by 100%.” The order also tells residents, “You really should not be leaving the house unless it’s an emergency or for an essential need like food and water.” Residents who do venture beyond their doorsteps “must wear a mask,” indoors and out, regardless of how close they are to people from other households. The only exceptions are for people who are “drinking, eating, or under medical instruction.” The rules explicitly say people must “wear face-coverings while exercising,” even “outdoors.”
New Mexico had previously recognized that people could engage in outdoor activities with minimal risk of catching or transmitting the coronavirus. It described in detail “safe practices for golf courses,” for example. Given that the scientific evidence regarding virus transmission has not changed since those guidelines were issued, it is hard to see why closing off outdoor recreation opportunities is justified now. You might think preserving those opportunities is especially important at a time when private, indoor gatherings are being blamed (without much evidence) for driving a spike in new cases.
Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz banned “social gatherings” that include people from different households. “This prohibition includes indoor and outdoor gatherings, planned and spontaneous gatherings, and public and private gatherings,” he said. It applies to groups of any size, “even if social distancing can be maintained.”
Even The New York Times, us
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