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Temescal Gateway Park
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/<a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Matthew Robinson</a>

Social gatherings? A no go. But hiking and walking are still welcome in L.A.

Michael Juliano

As more of us are staying home due to coronavirus, we’re sure many of you are a little fuzzy on what exactly we should and shouldn’t do when it comes to stepping foot outside of our front doors. Sure, you’re practically a pro by now at practicing social distancing—things like staying at least six feet away from other people—and you know you should limit non-essential trips outside of the house. But what about taking your dog for a walk? Or clearing your head with a hike?

Thankfully, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has released a clear primer on social distancing using a symbol that all Angelenos can understand (and that most of us follow): traffic lights.

Social distancing guidelines

Courtesy Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

In the red-light “avoid” column, the county is urging Angelenos to skip activities and locations that facilitate the spread of coronavirus: large gatherings, bars, dine-in restaurants (takeout and pickup are still OK), entertainment venues and crowded retail spots like malls.

As for yellow-light entries, the county suggests you “use caution” for a slice of mostly essential activities: visiting a grocery store, picking up a takeout order, getting medication, using mass transit, embarking on essential travel, having visitors over (which the CDC is now discouraging) and—oddly specifically—playing tennis in a park. In these cases, you’ll want to consider trips during off-peak times, limit contact with surfaces and other people, wash your hands, avoid touching your face and cover your cough or sneeze with something other than your hand.

But the bright spot among all of this is the green-light column, a selection of activities that the county still considers “safe to do.” This, of course, includes things like reading a book, watching TV and calling your family and friends. But it also includes some welcome additions: taking a walk, going for a hike, playing in your yard or going out for a drive.

Note that these guidelines could change in the future, and that even among these green-light activities, you should still be keeping your distance from people and washing your hands. But it’s a relief to know that we can still hike to a waterfall, walk around our neighborhoods (or some botanical gardens that’ve kept their outdoor areas open) and hit the road for a scenic drive without feeling that we’re violating the spirit of social distancing. 

And look, going back to the traffic light symbols: Just like driving, we know that some Angelenos will choose to run red lights. But the county reiterates that each and every one of us—even the young and healthy—have to do our part by practicing social distancing and smart, preventative measures. If you’re sick, stay home. And in general, if you can limit your time out and about, please do so. But if all of the stress and anxiety of adjusting to our rapidly-changing circumstances is getting to you, remember that a simple walk outside can still be part of our new normal.

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