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A Germ Expert Offers Advice Ahead of Memorial Day Weekend

Tips on How to Celebrate Safely

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Above image credit: A disc golf basket in Kessler Park on Cliff Drive. (Clarence Dennis | Flatland)

Memorial Day weekend just might feel a bit different amid a global pandemic.

The three-day weekend and unofficial start to summer comes at a particularly fraught moment, just as businesses and public spaces are reopening across the metro.

If you have questions before making plans to picnic, head out to the parks, or go forward with the family cookout, you aren’t alone. Flatland reached out to KU Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Dana Hawkinson for tips on returning to recreation safely.

Flatland: What type of risk does going to a park for a picnic, workout or to toss the football pose versus other “getting back to normal” activities like going to a restaurant or to the office?

Dr. Hawkinson: Certainly doing things indoors, like going to a restaurant, is going to pose more inherent risk opposed to doing anything outside just because of the confined space. Outside, if you’re doing anything with people who are not in your household, that can bring in a risk in itself, because you don’t know the “bubble” that this person has been in or who else they are seeing.

If you’re outside it is certainly easier to space out. We certainly encourage healthy activity and exercise. If people aren’t in your household, maintain six, eight to 10 feet of distance away. Probably don’t go out and around if you are sick and continue to not be in large groups. That goes to the point of we don’t know what people outside of our households are doing.

If you’re outside, you probably aren’t touching a lot of surfaces, but again practice good hand hygiene. Masks can certainly be worn if you are sitting down or in groups and you’re going to try to maintain the social distance. If you are going to try doing active things like playing tennis or walking and running, the mask may be a little bit more of a hindrance, but as long as you are not in a large group you should be OK to not have a mask.

Flatland: How much of a difference is there between playing basketball with people outside of your “bubble” and doing something like playing tennis or golf?

Dr. Hawkinson: Obviously, there is theoretical risk with the tennis ball if someone happens to sneeze or cough while holding the ball and then you serve it and the other person is picking it up. Again, when you are doing any of these things, don’t share equipment, continue to not touch your face – things of that nature. If you are playing football or tossing a frisbee, you’re going to have contact with that inanimate object, so that can pose a theoretical risk. With all of this, we are just trying to get out information on minimizing the risk.


KC Parks Reopening Plan

On Monday, Kansas City Parks and Recreation, in coordination with the Health Department and Mayor’s Office, entered Phase 1 of its reopening plan. The first of three reopening phases includes three city fountains, select fitness centers, day camps and dog parks with strict social distancing and hygienic guidelines, outdoor gatherings of fewer than 50 persons and lower-contact activities, such as tennis, golf and pickleball. Other athletic courts, shelter houses, ball fields and youth leagues will remain closed and continue to be evaluated. 


Flatland: Surfaces. As far as getting back into a weight room, even with limited time or access in a weight room — is spraying and wiping down these surfaces enough? Or is spreading the virus through, say, a cough more of the threat in those situations?

Dr. Hawkinson: We do think that outdoors is a little bit more of a stressful environment for the virus. It probably won’t last as long on those [outdoor] surfaces, but it could probably still last a few hours. Within that time, the concentration of the active virus is probably going down.

Certainly indoors it’s a little bit more controlled, it might last a little bit longer. Things like shopping and stores, where you have high-touch surfaces, it could probably last for at least a few hours in any significant concentration. You bring that to an enclosed space like a weight room or something like that and it is important that you wipe down a weight set after using it, then as you move to a new weight set, you should probably wipe those down too.

We have to remember that the virus is pretty weak — that many household cleaners will take care of the virus and clean it adequately. You can make an alcohol solution, you can make a homemade bleach solution.

But certainly things like jungle gyms, playrooms, pose pretty great risk as far as inanimate objects that are able to transfer the virus from one person to another.


Interactive COVID-19 Case Mapper


Flatland: Summer is just on the horizon and I imagine many pools may take some time to open, if at all. But just generally speaking do pools pose any type of unique risk?

Dr. Hawkinson: The message that we’ve been giving so far is that I’m not really concerned if someone is coughing the virus into the pool. Again, it’s in the water, it’s going to be spreading out and the environment of the water and the chlorine is probably enough to inactivate or kill it. Virus falling into the pool isn’t really what the problem is.

The problem is people congregating around the pool and the pool area for extended periods of time closer than six, eight, or 10 feet — especially children. Children can’t maintain physical distance very well, because even adults have problems doing that, so they are going to have a lot of contact, they are going to be close together.

It’s really the gathering of the people and inability to stay separated is really going to be the largest risk rather than being in the pool or something like that. You need to maintain the physical distance, you need to not have large gatherings and children are going to be more apt to roughhouse and play and have more contact and be closer to each other than adults.

LaShana McGee and her daughter
LaShana McGee, of Piper, Kansas, with her 9-year-old daughter, KayLynn, at he Providence YMCA/Ball Family Center in this file photo. (Mike Sherry | Flatland)

Flatland: But there’s nothing that says you shouldn’t get out to jog at a park or throw the frisbee with a roommate or something like that?

Dr. Hawkinson: We’ve always maintained and endorsed physical activity. Being out in the sun, I think our dermatology colleagues would say make sure you wear sunscreen. So yes, doing that is perfectly acceptable. 

There are ways that are more risky and wrong to do it versus ways that are more correct and less risky. People need to understand that to do the right practices. 

KCPT is committed to serving you with high-quality information and entertainment through this challenging time. Visit kept.org/coronavirus.

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