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Illinoisans can and should get physical activity and have fun outside during “Stay at Home”

Gin and Miguel Kilgore on The 606. (Gin wanted to mention that she does not endorse the right-wing politics of Cubs owner Joe Ricketts.) Photo: Michael Burton

Yesterday Illinois and Chicagoland officials, led by Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, took the wise and necessary step of issuing a statewide  "Stay at Home" order as a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That's something that Streetsblog Chicago had been pushing for since Monday, when a similar initiative was announced in the Bay Area. This should be a nationwide policy, so hopefully the federal government will take action on this soon.

Illinois' SAH edict requires residents to remain in their homes to avoid catching or transmitting the disease, except for crucial tasks like shopping for food and medicine, going to essential jobs, and caring for sick relatives and friends. Non-essential businesses businesses have been ordered to close, and restaurants, cafes, and bars may only offer take-out and delivery service.

Gatherings of more than ten people are banned, and you should not be going over to friends' or family members' homes for dinner or to hang out inside. When in public space, you should maintain 6' "social distancing" from non-household members. Elderly or vulnerable people should avoid in-person shopping and errands altogether to minimize their exposure to infected people or surfaces. Read Pritzker's executive order here for details.

The full or partial closures of businesses are creating serious financial hardships for many Chicagoans, and steps are being taken to stop evictions and provide financial, food, and housing aid to struggling residents. (If you've been more fortunate, here are some ideas for supporting local workers and businesses during this challenging time.)

But it's important to remember that the SAH edict is not a full lockdown, let alone marital law. Walking and biking for transportation, and various other forms of outdoor physical activity and recreation aren't just legal under the SAH order, they're encouraged.

In fact, I'd argue that it's your civic duty to go outside and have fun on a regular basis during the pandemic, daily if possible. Staying cooped up in your apartment or house all day with no fresh air or exercise is counterproductive to physical and mental wellness, but going outdoors and moving your body will help you stay healthy and maintain a more positive outlook during these tough times.

So what exactly does Illinois' SAH order have to say about transportation and recreation? All travel modes, including "automobile, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, train, plane, or public transit," are still permitted but should only be used for essential purposes. In particular, to reduce viral exposure, you shouldn't use ride-hail or taxis unless you have to, and it's also best to avoid riding the CTA, Metra, or Pace if possible to protect yourself and make conditions less crowded and therefore safer for transit workers and people who have to no other travel options.

In contrast, walking and biking are safe ways to get around during the pandemic, provided that you maintain 6' distance from others to stay out of the way of respiratory droplets. But avoid crowded, narrow sidewalks, and give other cyclists plenty of room when passing or waiting at a red light. When the weather gets warmer, if sections of popular greenways like the Lakefront Trail and the Bloomingdale Trail are too crowded, you might want to detour on city streets, or just avoid those paths during peak use times.

Thanks to lobbying by over 70 local bike stores and the Active Transportation Alliance, with assistance from State Rep. Theresa Mah, and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the SAH order classifies bike shops under the heading of essential "businesses needed for transportation," and thus may remain open. However, to ensure safety for their employees and yourself, it's best to call before you show up at a store to ask about their preferred protocols for bike drop-off and pickup, and shopping.

Pandemic policies at Roberts Cycle in Rogers Park. Photo: Jeff Zoline
Pandemic policies at Roberts Cycle in Rogers Park. Photo: Jeff Zoline
Pandemic policies at Roberts Cycle in Rogers Park. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Even if you're not walking or biking to do an essential errand, the SAH order specifies that you can also walk or bike solely for outdoor activity, along with other forms of recreation, including in parks and any other recreational areas that are still open. (Note that all Chicago Park District buildings are closed, so bathrooms won't be available.) In fact, the order says that such forms of recreation are "essential activities." From the order:

To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements, as defined below, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, running, or biking. Individuals may go to public parks and open outdoor recreation areas. However, playgrounds may increase spread of COVID-19, and therefore shall be closed.

It's also fine to play soccer , shoot baskets, or toss a softball, football, or Frisbee with people you live with. But don't share sports equipment with non-household members. Stretching, yoga, and tai chi are other good choices for physical activity, provided you maintain social distance. Swimming in your own pool or hot tub is fine, and taking a dip in Lake Michigan is also OK if you stay away from other people.

San Francisco's "shelter in place" guidelines explain why it's so important to allow outdoor recreation during the pandemic. "Spending time outside improves mood and wellbeing, and is particularly beneficial to children. Go for walks, go to the park, and engage in other similar activities."

Meeting up for a socially-distanced walk, wheelchair excursion, jog, bike ride, roller skate, or skateboarding session is also a great way to safely spend time with non-household friends and family members.

Sunset from the pier at Montrose Beach. A socially-distanced walk on the lakefront is a great way to safely spend time with a friend or relative you don't live with. Photo: John Greenfield
Sunset from the pier at Montrose Beach. A socially-distanced walk on the lakefront is a great way to safely spend time with a friend or relative you don't live with. Photo: John Greenfield
Sunset from the pier at Montrose Beach. A socially-distanced walk on the lakefront is a great way to safely spend time with a friend or relative you don't live with. Photo: John Greenfield

According to the Illinois rules, it's kosher to bike or drive to a park, trail, the lakefront, a forest preserve, etc. in order to recreate. They allow "any travel related to the provision of or access to essential activities," and outdoor recreation is classified as such.

So feel free to go visit one of these destinations to take in nature or culture outside on foot. Here are some more ideas. If you're driving, I'd recommend choosing a location within a few miles of your home in order to reduce the chance of a crash (we need all the healthcare capacity we can get for sick people right now), and minimize your carbon footprint.

So just because you can't go out for dinner, drink at a bar, catch a live concert, play, or comedy show, that's no excuse to mope around the house. Go out and get some fresh air and exercise, and I'm 99 percent sure you'll feel better afterwards.

To enhance your excursion, check out Courtney Cobb's advice on using cycling as self-care, and Mia Park's tips on using walking for meditation.

Here are some tips on preventing the spread of coronavirus, and advice for Chicagoans on what to do if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.

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