Foss: It’s cold, but you can still go outside

The author likes to take walks with her young son at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
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The author likes to take walks with her young son at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things. 

But it hasn’t really changed how I spend my weekends. 

On Saturday morning, I took my son to a playground. In the afternoon, I brought him down to Empire State Plaza to walk around and look at the Christmas tree. 

On Sunday morning, I went jogging while my son played in the backyard under my husband’s supervision. In the afternoon, we drove out to my son’s music teacher’s house for a small winter party, held outdoors in her big woodsy yard. 

The falling temperatures have prompted a lot of articles about how people are retreating indoors and spreading COVID-19 in small gatherings – what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called “living room spread.” The reaction, typically, is that people need to do the right thing and stay home. 

It’s the same advice we’ve been hearing since the pandemic began, and while many continue to follow it, it’s clear some people are tuning it out.

What’s needed is new messaging that acknowledges this reality and gives people information on the risks of spending time with friends and family, as well as guidance on how to see friends and loved ones more safely. 

As Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, observed in an essay in The Atlantic magazine, “When a public-health approach isn’t producing the desired outcome, it’s time to try something different.” 

Government officials and public health professionals need to “consider the possibility that when huge numbers of people indicate through their actions that seeing loved ones in person is non-negotiable, they need practical ways to reduce risk that go beyond ‘Just say no,’” Marcus wrote. 

During the summer months, there was some discussion of how people could socialize and recreate more safely – namely, by taking activities outside. 

Now that winter is upon us, this discussion has mostly subsided.

Maybe people think colder weather makes getting outside impractical as a COVID-coping strategy. Or perhaps concerns about holiday get-togethers and travel are drowning out other, more nuanced advice on how to restore some semblance of normalcy to life during a pandemic.  

Whatever it is, our public officials need to do a better job of helping people understand that getting outdoors is still a good way to reduce the risk of seeing people and having fun, provided you avoid crowds, social distance and wear a mask when in close proximity to others. 

In her essay, Marcus writes that cities “can offer free outdoor activities, such as ice-skating, snowshoeing and even art installations to reduce pandemic fatigue and lure people away from indoor gatherings.”

One good local example of communities thinking creatively about how to safely celebrate the holidays has been the push to retool the traditional holiday parades that draw throngs of people to downtowns. 

Tuesday at 6 p.m. Schenectady will hold a First Responders Holiday Parade that will make its way through every neighborhood in the city. In Amsterdam, a local resident organized a month-long Holiday Light Train that invites residents to follow a map that takes them to some of the city’s more impressive Christmas light displays. 

These are nice activities for people, but it would be great to see communities also remind people that hiking, walking, sledding, skiing, ice-skating and snowshoeing are also relatively low-risk. I’m hoping to buy my son both skis and snowshoes before it snows, and we’ve got several sleds sitting in our entryway, just waiting for snow. 

Spending time outdoors with friends is more difficult when it’s cold, but it’s not impossible. 

A campfire, such as the one my son’s music teacher built in her backyard, can warm things up quite a bit, as can doing something active, like going for a walk. Clothing is crucial – don’t forget your hat and gloves. 

I’ll confess: I’ve been dreading the onset of winter for months. 

Now that it’s here, I’m finding that it’s not as bad as I feared. 

Some unseasonably warm days have helped, but what’s really made a difference has been realizing just how much there is to do. 

Sure, you might have to wipe some ice off the slide at the local playground – but once you’ve done that, there’s plenty of chilly fun to be had. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Sara Foss

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