In the outdoors, keep your distance

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With nothing but time on our hands and becoming more restless each day, most are looking for safe activities. The outdoors is the obvious answer, but how long will that last?

States surrounding Wyoming have issued shelter-in-place orders, restricting residents from going to public access areas to fish, hike and recreate. Because Wyoming is still open, residents from other states have been coming to the area to seek fun. Gov. Mark Gordon issued a directive Friday requiring any individual coming to Wyoming from another state or country for a non-work-related purpose to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.

“For visits fewer than 14 days, that individual must self-quarantine for the duration of the visit. The directive is intended to discourage out-of-state visitation during the pandemic and reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the directive reads.

Yet, outdoor activity is healthy, safe and recommended by disease specialists — not only for physical, but mental health. But rules vary and are changing daily. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, an infectious diseases expert with the Mayo Clinic, says it’s important that people are familiar with local rules, yet encourages outdoor activity.

“It is OK to go outside and in fact encouraged to get some exercise, get some fresh air, get some sunlight, and going outside, spending time outside in areas where there are not crowds of people,” she said.

But where? Yellowstone National Park is closed to all visitors “until further notice” and the Shoshone National Forest has closed campgrounds and facilities “until at least April 30, at which point they will be reevaluated.” Wyoming State Parks have closed overnight camping and all facilities and all of Wyoming’s historical sites have followed.

In some states, water access, public trails, city parks and playgrounds have been closed. In neighboring Nebraska, playground equipment has been wrapped in crime scene tape and signs have been posted. While that’s not the case in Park County, the worry is playground and picnic area surfaces aren’t cleaned after every use and could transmit germs.

When going out in public, Dr. Rajapakse says it’s very important to practice social distancing, keeping a 6-foot radius between you and other people. She stresses the importance of everyone doing that — even those who do not feel sick.

“We really need everyone in the country to be doing this right now in order to protect our communities and our families,” she said, adding, “We know with this infection that people can transmit even before they become symptomatic themselves. Even though someone might be feeling well today, you don’t know if tomorrow they might develop symptoms. And if that’s the case, then you may have been exposed if you were within that 6-foot radius from them.”

In Wyoming it seems easy to find space of your own. But as the spread of COVID-19 closes in on the seemingly isolated areas of the northwest part of the state, it’s important to know the disease could already be here. Some residents with symptoms consistent with the virus have been asked to quarantine, but haven’t been tested. As of Monday, less than 4,000 tests were administered in the state. Of those, there were 210 reported positive cases.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik, who is also Wyoming’s assistant adjutant general for the Army National Guard, has asked both agencies to gear up while residents hunker down. In a message to troops he said “our nation and our state is facing a challenge we haven’t seen … in decades.”

“This is a time when we certainly have a responsibility and obligation to our families to make sure they’re taken care of and that we’ve taken all the necessary steps to mitigate the spread of this virus,” Nesvik said.

For the time being, the outdoors is still open in the Cowboy State. But Nesvik has already been forced to close the Game and Fish Department offices in Lander after employees became ill; in Jackson, meanwhile, residents have been ordered to shelter in place — though outdoor recreation remains allowed.

Gov. Gordon has been reluctant to issue such an order. And regardless of what locations are open, residents are being asked to practice social distancing and limit their interactions with others to only those that are absolutely necessary.

“Anecdotally, we’re hearing there’s tremendous crowds at the top of Teton Pass” outside of Jackson, Gordon said Friday, “We’d like to discourage that.”

In general, however, he said that “we’re hearing from others that people are getting it and they’re stopping behaving the way they were.”

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