Since the official declaration from the World Health Organization of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, the world has labored to keep up with the science behind this deadly virus. Stay-at-home orders and quarantine directives have helped to reduce the spread of coronavirus, but economic impacts and a thriving conspiracy culture have made Americans anxious to return to “normal”.
Some early scientific speculation was that, due to the airborne nature of the COVID-19 virus, well-ventilated and outdoor spaces were much safer than enclosed indoor spaces with poor airflow. Luckily, more than a year later, this theory seems to hold up.
In 2020 alone, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation than in the year before, as shown in the 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation. While much of this year has seen less restrictive policies related to the coronavirus than 2020, people are still wary and many entertainment venues are still sticking to outdoor activities.
The risk decrease offered from the outdoors has some swapping hobbies like channel surfing or online table games for fishing and camping instead. In 2020, participation in camping grew by 28% and freshwater fishing grew by 8.6%, adding nearly 3.4 million people to the open-air hobby. Hiking also saw a surge of interested participants, growing in popularity by 16.3%, or 8.1 million more hikers.
Part of the goal as these numbers climb is to make sure they stay up. “Given the unique and unprecedented events of 2020, members of OIA are already asking what they can do to ensure the above numbers aren’t merely a short-term blip and to sustain the increase over time,” said Outdoor Foundation Managing Director Stephanie Maez in a statement regarding the Outdoor Participation Report.
With the summer of 2021 coinciding with the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US, many people paired their vaccinations with vacation. Being vaccinated does not make you completely immune to the virus, but it does decrease your likelihood of contracting and becoming severely ill with COVID. That extra layer of security has motivated people to travel to more outdoorsy locations; visitation to national parks is booming this year, even causing some locations to adopt advanced reservation systems.
Of course, vaccines only offer so much protection when it comes to fighting off coronavirus–breakthrough cases and variants are popping up all over the country and baseline precautions like masks, frequent hand washing, and social distancing are still a must. Some super spreader events that occurred outside even have people questioning the effectiveness and ethics of attending or hosting outdoor events.
Generally, the consensus is that being outdoors actually does decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19. But when considering how safe it truly is to go to an outdoor gathering, travel to an outdoor event, or get your fill of outdoor activities, it’s important to consider a few things.
First, look at the transmission rates of the location you’re going to. Think of it like checking the weather before you leave for a trip; if transmission rates are high, it’s probably better to stay home. Second, consider the event or venue you’re going to. Going fishing is a lot different from going to an outdoor wedding. You probably won’t be doing a lot of mingling or going from indoors to outdoors in the company of largemouth bass. But at your cousin’s wedding, people may be interacting, using the restroom, going from one venue to another, and spending a lot of time in mixed company–no offense to the bride’s side. There are a lot more chances for transmission of the virus.
Until vaccination rates are higher or transmission rates nationwide go down for COVID-19 and all its variants, it may be wiser to take up more remote hobbies like hunting, fishing, camping, or hiking. Of course, if you’re more of a homebody, there’s always an online instant withdraw casino or a TV show reboot happening on a streaming service somewhere.