Many of the realities of today would have been hard to imagine two months ago. As a journalist, I certainly did not expect to track down senior health officials with the question: can we go for a walk?
In this disorienting new pandemic universe, the answer is not necessarily obvious. The public has received firm instructions, sometimes even reprimanded, to stay indoors during all outings except essential to slow the spread of COVID-19. We know that physical remoteness saves lives. So, is walking a “must-see” or a carefree luxury?
While messages have sometimes been confused from different levels of government, Toronto’s best public health workers have been consistent: you can take a walk. You should really walk around. Staying indoors can also have mental and physical health consequences, and they also don’t want residents to suffer from these harmful effects.
“Going for a walk may be necessary if you have a pet. It is also an important public health intervention to stay physically active, build muscle, and improve mental health and well-being, “said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Assistant Medical Officer of Health for Toronto Public Health.
There are crucial exceptions to this advice. If you have COVID-19 or are otherwise ill, if you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or if you have recently returned from an international trip, you should not – and now in Toronto legally can not, in most of these cases – go for a walk.
If you are not one of these groups and you are going for a walk, you have to maintain two meters of physical distance from other people at all times – and granted, in dense urban environments, it is not always easy nor even possible.
This advice could change in the rapidly evolving epidemic. But while simply ordering everyone to stay at home without exception might be easier to communicate, isolation also carries risks, experts say.
“The ramifications of enforcing isolation are enormous. They are huge and could be very detrimental to a certain segment of the population, “said Myriam Mongrain, clinical psychologist and professor at York University.
Before addressing the health consequences of staying indoors, let’s take a look at the safety of going out.
Although we have only known about this virus for about 90 days, Canadian public health officials and infectious disease experts express confidence that people who stay within two meters of each other and do not touch no surface has very little chance of catching COVID-19.
The disease is mainly acquired by coming into contact with droplets expelled from the respiratory tract of contagious people by coughing, sneezing, or talking, or by touching the surfaces where these droplets have settled, and then touching your mouth, nose, or your eyes.
Again, while COVID-19 is very new, current evidence suggests that the virus can only persist in the air under very specific circumstances, such as when an inpatient is intubated, an invasive procedure that causes a cough. extreme.
“COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets by coughing, sneezing or speaking in close contact with a contagious person. Taking a walk outside while keeping a physical distance of six feet from others has a very low risk of spreading COVID-19, “said Dubey of Toronto Public Health.
Authorities berated Toronto residents for their rally in parks and other spaces last weekend. In a city like Toronto, it can be difficult, however, to find a place and time to go out where it is easy to stay one length away from others.
“With dense urban environments, there is more challenge there … where are you going?” Said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, on Wednesday. “We are trying to leave green spaces open so you can go there. “
Williams suggested planning off-peak walks and other outdoor exercises – but again, if an entire city of millions chooses off-peak hours, the concept of off-peak becomes a bit meaningless. Just use common sense.
“Go to times when there are no people and plan your exercise, your jogging when it is still safe. “
It is possible to guess in general terms the health consequences of much of North America isolated and inactive for weeks and months, but the exact results are more difficult to predict. The physical and mental health experts the Star spoke to have struggled to find comparable scenarios for which there is good scientific evidence.
York University’s clinical psychologist Mongrain was concerned about the cost of isolating people, especially children, from dangerous households.
“There is a huge segment of the population who do not have really good space within the four walls of their house,” she said.
“Is this space healthy or is it a space with toxic or dysfunctional relationships?” Think of children in households where there is domestic violence or an increased likelihood of abuse. These are children who are vulnerable. “
Applying a mandatory home stay order could have dire consequences for children and adults in this situation, said Mongrain. These people, more than most, need to be able to leave their homes for a walk.
Never miss the latest Star news, including up-to-date coronavirus coverage, with our free email newsletters
On the physical health side, David Hood, a professor and holder of a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Kinesiology and Health Sciences at York University, says he is concerned about young people who were previously active. Negative changes in inactivity on the body are rapid, said Hood.
“I am more worried about young people who are normally very active and suddenly find themselves doing nothing. They sit in front of screens a lot more than they normally would. Young people are not immune to changes in strength and muscle size, cardiovascular breakdown and metabolic problems that will arise from becoming inactive. ”
Mongrain was an exception to the recommendation to go out.
“How do you feel when you walk? Is your level of anxiety increasing … are you able to get rid of your thoughts of contamination? Otherwise, stay at home.