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How To Safely Get Outdoor Exercise In Kansas City During A Pandemic

Charlie Riedel
A jogger and a pair of walkers maintain their distance on a nearly empty Country Club Plaza.

It’s officially spring in Kansas City, even with the coronavirus. Around the metro, there are signs Mother Nature is unaware of the pandemic with greener grass, budding flowers and warmer temperatures.

That’s drawing many people outdoors to take a break from being cooped up indoors following stay-at-home orders. Health experts say getting exercise is important, even with restrictions on movement, but people should still try to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.

Here are some tips for safely getting some fresh air and exercise outdoors during a pandemic. 

Golf: Tee times available

At a time when many non-essential businesses are shut down, those who run golf courses around the Kansas City metro aren’t openly advertising that they’re still open.

Johnson County Parks and Recreation reopened its two public courses Monday for “touchless golf,” with reduced tee times and rules stating only one person per golf cart.

But as far as avoiding the coronavirus, golf may be the closest thing to a walk through the park. Still, it’s not a zero-risk proposition, says Dr. Neal Erickson, a Kansas City-based physician.

“You should treat your world right now as if everybody around you has an infection,” Erickson says. “If you want to take that risk, it’s a risk you’re choosing to take.”

Social distancing guidelines commonly recommend people should maintain six feet of distance between each other in public. Erickson goes further and says people should give 10 feet of space. He says on a golf course that’s easier to maintain in a twosome, rather than a foursome.

Even better? Playing a round completely by yourself.

But if you’re playing with someone else, Erickson advises to avoid sharing a cart, play with your own clubs and pick up your own ball.

Running, walking and biking: Go it alone

Running or biking in a small group is not a good idea since the coronavirus spreads readily through airborne means — coughing, sneezing and breathing heavily.

Credit Jodi Fortino / KCUR
Two people out for a walk in Loose Park in Kansas City. City officials have padlocked the gates to the park's parking lot to dissuade people from coming.

“While they’re exhaling, and the virus is exhaled, the guy right behind him is riding right through that,” says Erickson. “So theoretically you’re exposing the guy right behind you every time you breathe out.”

To minimize the risk, a solo ride or jog is a safer option.

Erickson adds, “It’s not really sports-specific as much as it is contact with other people in very close proximity.”

And if you’re out in your neighborhood or at a public park, give other joggers, riders and pedestrians a wide berth when you pass them.

Tennis and pickleball: Risky business

These sports involve hitting a ball back and forth between two players or teams of players. The distance across the net from each other isn't the issue, but Erickson says it’s hard not to exchange germs on the surface of the actual ball.

“If you never touch the ball [with your fingers], I guess that’s not unreasonable,” he says.

In fact, police in Prairie Village recently broke up a gathering of a couple of dozen people playing pickleball in Meadowbrook Park in Overland Park. 

In sports where a ball is frequently exchanged between players, Erickson says players could very well be spreading the virus. He also says it's unlikely players will want to stop after every round or exchange in order to clean the ball, but that would help tamp down potential spreading. 

Basketball and soccer: Foul play

These team sports tend to routinely violate social distancing recommendations, so health experts are cautioning against these activities during the shutdown.

There are ways of lowering your risk by not playing a regular game, but spreading the virus is still possible. Erickson says, like with tennis and pickleball, you should avoid exchanging basketballs and soccer balls with others.

“If you go to the park and kick the ball back and forth to your buddy, you shouldn’t pick it up, you shouldn’t throw it and you shouldn’t head it,” he says.

Erickson says the best advice is to follow the recommendations given out by local health departments and the CDC.

That might mean a lot of games of HORSE … by yourself.

Greg Echlin reports on sports for KCUR. You can follow him on Twitter @gregechlin

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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