Foss: COVID-19 quarantine fatigue? You’re not alone.

At the Schenectady Greenmarket Sunday
PHOTOGRAPHER:
At the Schenectady Greenmarket Sunday

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

Do you have quarantine fatigue? 

If you do, you’re not alone. 

Research from the University of Maryland suggests that more people across the country are going outside, that they’re doing so with greater frequency and that they’re traveling for longer distances. 

“It just seems that people are getting a little tired collectively of staying at home after we passed that one-month mark,” observed Lei Zhang, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute, the group conducting the research, in an interview with the New York Times.

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I’ve had similar observations, from talking with friends, reading what people are posting on social media and going outside myself. On sunny days, I’m seeing more pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers. Is this really such a bad thing? 

Yes, there’s reason to worry that what Zhang termed quarantine fatigue will lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections. We don’t want people to let down their guard and engage in risky behaviors. 

But here’s the thing: The risk of outdoor transmission of the virus appears fairly low, provided people practice social distancing and wear masks. 

Rather than frown upon those who venture outside, we should be encouraging people to engage in safe, outdoor activity and creating more opportunities for them to do so. If crowding on sidewalks, trails and in parks is a concern, the solution isn’t to close all public spaces. It’s to make more of them. 

Some cities, such as Boston, Minneapolis and New York City, are taking advantage of the drop in traffic caused by stay-at-home orders, closing streets to cars and turning them into thoroughfares for pedestrians and cyclists. The goal is to provide people with space to exercise and stay at least six feet away from anyone else they might encounter. 

Capital Region communities might consider creating their own car-free zones for residents to enjoy. 

One idea floated during Schenectady’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative process was creating a public square in front of City Hall by closing off Jay Street to cars. Why not try doing this now, on a temporary basis, to see how it works and give people more space to walk? 

I’ll admit I had some concerns about the reopening of the Schenectady Greenmarket last weekend, and whether it would encourage risky crowding among patrons. But the return of the city’s farmer’s market appears to have been a success. People wore masks, kept their distance and followed new guidelines aimed at keeping vendors and shoppers safe. 

With local stores looking to reopen in the weeks and months ahead, the Greenmarket might serve as a possible model for how to move business outside, where it’s safer. Finding ways to repurpose parking lots, perhaps by allowing vendors to use them, might also be worth a look. 

In New York City, there’s already discussion of allowing restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas. The Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is turning public space over to bar and restaurant owners, with the mandate that they observe physical distancing rules. 

There’s a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, which is why we should take precautions wherever we go. 

But I’m encouraged by some of the research I have seen.  

A recent study of 318 COVID-19 outbreak clusters in China found that the vast majority were fueled by indoor transmission of the virus. Nearly 80 percent of outbreaks occurred in a home setting, while 34 percent occurred in a transportation setting; just one outbreak, involving two cases of the disease, occurred outside. 

“All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major (COVID-19) infection risk,” the researchers wrote. 

I’ve heard more than one person wonder when we’re going to be allowed to go outside again, which makes me think that the public health messaging around the outdoors lacks clarity. 

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I go outside almost every day. I go for walks, and visit nature preserves and parks. These aren’t major excursions: I generally stay within 15 minutes of my home. I’ve been in a pretty good mood, and the reason is simple: I’m not cooped up indoors all the time. 

The research is clear: Getting outside is good for people. 

It might also be the key to preventing quarantine fatigue.

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