Spring weather is pulling Alaskans outside, but virus precautions are still in play

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The snow is melting, trees are starting to green up and the Alaska summer is approaching fast. But the global pandemic is still reshaping daily life, including outdoor recreation.

Under current state mandates, you can go outdoors and be around others who aren’t part of your household. But the group can’t be larger than 20 people, and each family or household should drive separately. Everyone in the group should wear cloth face coverings, and they shouldn’t share food.

As COVID-19 cases continue to emerge in Alaska communities, below are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and others while enjoying the outdoors.

If your favorite trailhead is busy, consider a new adventure

Creativity is important right now, said Wendy Sailors, a development specialist with Alaska State Parks.

Parking lots for many popular trailheads in the Anchorage area have been crowded lately. Instead of going to the busiest trailhead on the busiest day, now is a great time to try someplace new, Sailors said.

“Maybe go to a trail that you’ve never been to before,” Sailors said.

[State parks are expecting more campground use by Alaskans during the COVID-19 pandemic]

Along with water and bear spray, it’s a good idea to bring your mask

The parks department recommends having a mask when you’re on a trail, Sailors said, and wearing it whenever you go by someone who isn’t part of your household.

Cloth face coverings continue to be an important part of preventing COVID-19′s spread, health officials say. They cover your face, which keeps your droplets from spraying out toward others. Your droplets are what carry the new coronavirus, and if ingested by someone else — through a sneeze, a cough or spit — they could make someone sick.

Even if you’re feeling fine, it’s possible to still have the virus, said Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer at the Anchorage Health Department.

“I know of at least one case where a person — absolutely asymptomatic — tested positive before their procedure,” Chandler said. “It’s a sneaky virus.”

Cloth face coverings are helpful when you’re close to others, Chandler said. So if you’re outdoors and keeping a safe distance from others, masks aren’t as necessary. The risk of spreading the virus indoors with close proximity to others is higher, he said.

But COVID-19 still remains in Anchorage, Chandler said, so it’s important to keep up that increased space from others while you’re outside as well.

“The more distance we can keep from other people, the better,” he said.

Mitigate risk and stick with your own household members

For overnight trips, current guidelines recommend that people stay in tents and cabins only with immediate members of their household, Sailors said. If you’re heading to a public-use cabin, disinfecting them before and after is important, Sailors said.

COVID-19 precautions come on top of regular precautions to take when heading outdoors. There’s still avalanche danger in certain parts of the state, Sailors said. And bear encounters also are possible this time of year.

You should also take the emergency gear you need and make certain you’re not taking unnecessary risks, Sailors said.

Additionally, the state’s Division of Forestry is asking people to keep their fires to a 3-foot diameter.

[As Alaska continues to open, here’s what you can do to stay safe and healthy]

[Playgrounds reopen in Anchorage. Don’t forget to bring hand sanitizer.]

Keep your distance — and be kind

In April, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, advised keeping at least 20 feet from others while exerting yourself during a strenuous activity like running. The state is also discouraging anyone who’s already sick from venturing into parks, or generally leaving their home.

In addition to keeping a safe distance from others, it’s also important to be considerate along the trails, Sailors said. The stress of the pandemic and social distancing may be wearing people down in different ways, she said.

“Just really being kind is important right now,” Sailors said.

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