As Social Distancing Continues, Residents Hit the Roads, And A Public Health Expert Weighs In

Children ride bikes on Beach Road. (Photo by Lauren Hakimi)

In the past few weeks, nearly every facet of life has changed completely due to COVID-19: people have passed, schools and businesses have closed and people are spending most if not all of their time at home. 

But among all these changes, the roads still beckon to people looking to get fresh air and exercise, and residents have heeded the call.

Great Neck resident Shawn Partovi has taken up running since the pandemic hit. “[I’m] trying to keep in shape since the gyms are closed and trying to get my lungs worked to the limit so I can be prepared if I get the virus,” Partovi said.

In recent weeks, government officials have given residents the conditional green light to go walking, running and bike riding. On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it’s OK for people to exercise outside as long as they do so alone and maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

Recently, as knowledge of the coronavirus has increased, public health recommendations have changed. On April 15, Cuomo announced that in areas where social distancing is not possible, New Yorkers must wear masks. 

To shed light on the situation, the Great Neck Record spoke by Zoom with Adelphi University professor and disaster epidemiology expert K.C. Rondello. He touted the benefits of exercise while also cautioning residents to be cautious. “If you’re feeling well, we encourage people to exercise in a responsible way, and something like running is a great way to do that,” Rondello said.

With that said, there are precautions that people can and should take to protect themselves and others, the doctor said. “You’re never going to be able to get your risk down to zero,” he said. “That being the case, you want to take whatever steps are in your power to get that risk as low as possible while still maintaining your sanity.”

In addition to maintaining a distance of six feet in public places, Rondello says it’s important that people wear masks in case they may be sick without knowing it. “If you’re running, and you’re breathing heavily, and you’re wearing a mask, you’re limiting, to a great extent, the distance the droplet nuclei can travel when they come out of your nose and mouth,” he said. “That’s the whole point of wearing a mask.”

When outside, he said, people should also avoid frequently-touched objects: crosswalk buttons, public water fountains and bathrooms.

To minimize person-to-person interactions, “run at a time when there’ll be less people,” Rondello said. “Follow the Robert Frost rule — take the road less traveled.”

Rondello advised against intense workouts. “You don’t want to have extremely hard workouts,” he said. “We know that when you deplete your stores of glycogen, it has an immunodepleting effect where your immune system doesn’t function as well as it normally would.”

There are a number of measures people can take before and after exercising outside. “Before and after you leave your home — and this is for whether you’re going for a run or going to the grocery store — you want to wash your hands.”

Once a person gets home and removes their mask, Rondello recommends they “fold the mask so that the outer layers of the mask are touching” in case the outer side of the mask was exposed to the virus. Changing clothes and showering, he says, are also “prudent practice.”

The doctor also talked about things people can do to protect their home environment. 

“The recommendation of people staying at home is done with the presumption that your home is a safe place,” he said.  “One of those things could certainly be to leave your footwear outside your door,” he said. “It’s just another layer of protection that improves your risk profile.”

For now, Great Neck resident Jennifer Khoda chooses to run inside, on the treadmill.

“Now, with corona, I’m not sure [running outside] is worth the risks of airborne transmission,” she said. Now that she’s stuck at home, though, she’s looking forward to becoming an outdoor runner once she feels it’s safe.

“I am tired of being inside,” Khoda said. Running is “something that doesn’t have to be inside, so why should I stay in for it in the future?”

Lauren Hakimi is a Great Neck North High School grad who studies English and history at college.

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