Woman wearing mask outside in winter

As Marylanders head inside to escape the cold and brace ourselves for a COVID winter, we may be wondering how we can take part in COVID-safe winter outdoor activities.

Social distancing is the best way to mitigate risk, but staying connected is also essential for maintaining your mental health and well-being.

Going forward, though, the most important way you can protect yourself from the virus as well as others is to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.

COVID Winter Spread

Scientists are still studying the behavior of coronavirus in cold weather, but based on what we currently know, the cold weather itself isn't the main reason behind the winter increase of infections.

The way we react to cold weather, such as retreating indoors into poorly ventilated places, facilitates coronavirus spread. Gathering indoors can put you at a much greater risk of contracting coronavirus than gathering outside.

COVID-Safe Outdoor Activities in Winter

Just because we're staying safe this year doesn't mean you can't enjoy some traditional winter fun! There are many COVID-safe outdoor activities that you can enjoy during the cold winter months.

  • Having a bonfire with people you live with
  • Enjoying a hot chocolate or warm cider outside with people you live with
  • Having a backyard camping night with people you live with
  • Going on a walk or hike near your home and at a safe distance from others
  • Having a snowball fight at a safe distance from others
  • Going ice skating an outdoor rink during off-hours, either by renting out the entire rink or keeping a safe distance from others
  • Taking part in outdoor sports at home or at a safe distance from others, such as sledding

COVID Winter Gatherings: Making Them Safer

Gatherings are inherently risky in the era of COVID-19. It's always safer to remain distant and lean on technology to help connect you to others.

However, if you're feeling some pandemic fatigue and want to socialize safely, gathering outdoors is decidedly better than gathering indoors.

Winter weather may make it a little harder to gather outside, but not impossible. See the ways to keep gatherings safer during the winter.

Take Inventory Before Gathering

Similar to deciding if it's safe to go out, you should also take several factors into account before gathering. Consider your personal risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, as well as the risk level of people in your household. Also, if your local community spread levels are high, it's wise to wait until levels go down before gathering.

Keep It Intimate

Being outdoors with others lowers your risk of infection, but it does not eliminate it. Keep your outdoor gathering as small as possible. The more people you invite, the more risk you take on. You must also be familiar with and abide by your local regulations around gathering, which vary across Maryland.

Choose Your Guests Wisely

Limit your gathering to people who live in your local area. Also, take your guests' behaviors and attitudes into consideration. Do they socialize often? Do they recognize the health risk that the virus poses? If you don't know, ask them. Having these discussions may be difficult, but it helps keep everyone safe.

Keep It Short

The longer you are exposed to an infected person, the higher your chances of catching coronavirus. If you decide to host a gathering, even if it's outdoors, keep your gathering as short as possible to minimize everyone's risk. Seeing someone for a short amount of time is better than not seeing them at all.

If people must go inside to use the bathroom, ask that they wear a mask and come right back out. Don't let these quick trips inside turn into an indoor gathering. Keep in mind, the shorter a get-together, the less likely anyone will need to go inside.

Be Mindful of Air Flow

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), open-air tents have more air circulation and are less risky than enclosed 4-wall tents. If you want to use a tent or other kind of covering to help shield your guests from the elements, choose your tent wisely.

Avoid Alcohol Use

While drinking alcohol is common in some social settings, it's best avoided when gathering in the era of COVID-19. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, making people more likely to forget or break standard prevention measures.

Keep the Volume Down

According to the CDC, shouting or singing can increase the distance that respiratory droplets travel. Make sure everyone speaks at a normal volume to help contain these droplets within the normal six-foot range. If you plan to play music, keep it at a low volume so people don't need to shout over it.

Be Prepared for the Cold

In Maryland, it rarely gets so cold that it's unsafe to go outside – at least if you're properly prepared. Dressing for the weather ensures that you and your guests are protected from the temperature without needing to retreat inside.

Create a cozy fire pit or take advantage of a propane heater if you can to help keep everyone warm. Just make sure people don't gather around it. Ask people to bring blankets from home so they can stay comfortable.

Being prepared is one of the most important parts of hosting a gathering in winter during the coronavirus era. If it's cold, you may be tempted to go indoors, but it's not worth the elevated risk.

Use All Standard COVID-19 Prevention Measures

Just because you're outdoors doesn't excuse you from following all standard COVID prevention measures. This includes:

  • Stay six feet apart: If you leave your home, stay six feet away from others when you can. If you host a gathering, you can easily enforce this rule by spacing everyone's seats far apart.
  • Do not share objects: Coronavirus spreads primarily from person-to-person, but there is also a chance that you could get infected from contaminated surfaces. Don't have guests share any objects.
  • Practice coughing etiquette: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Avoid touching your face: Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face could infect you.
  • Wash your hands: Wash your hands whenever you're able. If gathering, encourage others to bring their own hand sanitizer.
  • Wear masks when appropriate: If you will get within six feet of another person, such as getting up to walk by them, wear your mask.
  • Stay home when sick: Ask your guests to avoid attending if they feel sick, exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus.

Updated 12/22/20


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