There have been a lot of interesting discussions at my office over the last couple weeks.
I think more than anything, we need to learn from our current “Safer At Home” situation, and expand what we know and how we act regarding maintaining a healthy and strong immune system.
While not everyone agrees with points I made in my previous column, I hope I opened up some eyes regarding the benefits of outside air. Fresh air is immensely beneficial with far less COVID-19 risk than the air we breathe inside of buildings. For that reason alone, let’s look at getting outside more.
But what about social distancing? I encourage this and see it as vastly easier when we are outside! We should be encouraged to disperse outside, and perhaps even disperse among a wider variety of commercial settings as well.
But yet that is exactly the opposite of what some government leadership is advising. Many of the largest parks and greenspaces are near water and experience stronger winds that are particularly favorable for virus dispersal.
In California, vast beach areas are closed, again forcing folks to stay indoors or crowd onto limited walkways and limited areas of open space that remained open.
All these park closures are based on fears of transmission within groups enjoying the parks. But such closures do not make sense. First, there is little evidence of viral spread in outdoor spaces, as I discussed in the previous column, even when outdoor spaces are crowded. When I have been to local parks it seems folks are generally careful and respectful, without large collections of folks in close proximity. Obviously, park officials can make it clear that closely packed large crowds are not appropriate and that there will be warnings and citations if such crowds occur. To put it succinctly, park closure is a solution in search of a problem that has never been shown to exist. And it hurts exactly the people it is meant to help.
In addition, getting outside and into nature is extraordinarily beneficial to physical and mental health. Being outside exposes folks to the sun’s UV rays that facilitate production of vitamin D, which bolsters the immune system and reduces the chance of infection by COVID-19 and other pathogens. Vitamin D is so much more important than simply a vitamin that helps you absorb calcium, which is what it was originally identified as, and is why it is added to milk. While the Recommended Dietary Allowance of Vitamin D is currently set at 600 International Units, I personally take 5,000 units per day and strongly recommend this to people I work with.
Vigorous exercise and even walking enhance the immune system, reducing chances of infection. And exercise and fresh air have a very positive effect on mood, reducing stress and anxiety—both of which weaken the immune system.
And in a progressive city like Seattle, or in the progressive states of Washington or California, there are simple equity ideas that should be compelling. Closing parks or making entry difficult hurts low-income people the most. Folks that live in small apartments or in crowded environments greatly enjoy the physical and emotional release of our wonderful large parks. They are the ones who are most deprived by the park closings, both mentally and physically, in comparison to those with large homes and extensive garden areas. And the closing of parking lots deprives the elderly and physically handicapped from the healthful conditions in our parks and the emotional salve of enjoying the outdoors. I have noted the demographic shift in the park when the parking lots were closed.
In some ways, this is all about risk. There is an extraordinarily small risk of catching COVID-19 while enjoying parks and natural areas. I mean really, really small. But park closures provide substantial risks that clearly threaten one’s physical and mental health. Our society is not particularly good in qualifying and acting upon risks, and the park closures are a prime example of this failure.
We had all heard officials state that in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis it is essential to “follow the science.” It is time that they follow their own advice, and not just fully reopen public parks and nature areas, including the restoration of parking lots and access, but perhaps encourage people to explore the natural wonders our state has to offer!

Finally as I mentioned when beginning this article, I want to encourage you to use lessons learned during the beginning of 2020 and make better decisions moving forward when it comes to your health. Fresh air, outdoor exercise, sunshine...they all help make you healthier, no matter the bacteria or virus or infective agent that may show up next. Freshen up and rejuvenate your mind, your body, and your immune system!