Sheltering at home from COVID-19 has many of us spending more time outdoors, especially in the relative safety of our yards and neighborhoods. Getting up and out may be the only thing keeping you sane right now, not to mention that plenty of scientific evidence says spending time in nature is good for body, mind, and soul.
But Austin's notoriously brutal summers and coronavirus may prevent some of us from hitting the outdoors. According to a recent national survey, the most significant obstacles that prevent people from spending time outside are high temperatures (51 percent) and rainy conditions (44 percent), followed by mosquitoes and other insects (37 percent), a lack of easily accessible parks and green spaces (18 percent), and a lack of outdoor-friendly apparel (13 percent). The remaining 15 percent split between prioritizing other activities over time outside and those whose main obstacle was not listed.
Let’s look at each of these barriers and how Austinites can overcome them.
Texans definitely have to deal with this obstacle. One of the best ways is to schedule outdoor time for early mornings and late evenings, and focus on less-strenuous activities such as walking. Seeking out water — whether swimming pools, lakes, or rivers — helps. Some other ways to keep your cool when temps climb include staying in the shade, wearing neck coolers, and swinging (on an actual swing, that is).
For Central Texas, this is not much of a worry for the next few months. Average rainfall in Austin during July and August is around 2 inches with precipitation usually occurring only five days per month. Besides, who wouldn’t want to go frolic in a nice, cooling rain shower right about now? Sounds like an excuse to go outside, not a reason to stay in.
Another obstacle that plays a big role here. We previously covered devices and treatments to keep mosquitos away on your balcony, patio or backyard, including holistic ones such as planting basil, sage, and other buzz-repelling plants and making your space inviting to critters that eat mosquitoes. Traditional insect repellant and treated clothing are other options to protect yourself in the great outdoors.
Access to parks and green spaces
Texas in general and Austin in particular are blessed with an abundance of outdoor spaces, many of them vast enough to easily keep your social distance. Options include Austin parks and LCRA parks, some of which have water access. Some city-owned facilities have limits and restrictions due to COVID-19; for example, Commons Ford Ranch, Emma Long, and Walter E. Long Metropolitan parks currently require day pass reservations. Many popular Travis County parks are currently closed, though state parks near Austin all currently are open for day use and limited camping, with reservations highly recommended. Check websites for alerts before you go and follow required safety protocols such as masks and keeping a six-foot distance from other parties.
In part to address greater COVID-related demand, the Austin Healthy Streets initiative added more space by partially closing some roads to vehicle traffic, making them safer for walking, running, biking, and other activities while maintaining at least six feet of distance. Future batches of street closures are planned, favoring under-resourced neighborhoods and those most in need of mobility improvements. Anyone can suggest a future Healthy Street.
C’mon, this is Austin! No one really cares what you wear when indulging in outdoor time. Of course, you’ll be more comfortable in apparel appropriate for your particular activity and the heat. Such apparel is available via in-store shopping, curbside pickup or shipping at a number of places, including Texas-based Whole Earth Provision Co., and REI and Academy Sports + Outdoors. Some local outdoor stores are temporarily closed, but check in with your favorite periodically to see if they’ve reopened. Budget-minded types can look for gently used outdoor apparel at local thrift stores (check websites for current hours and closings).
Prioritizing other activities
Just what other activities are we talking about here? Sure, it’s okay to binge watch the latest Netflix series or on-demand movies, bake brownies, clean out the closets, and nap (a lot), but if only for the sake of some variety, take it outside on occasion.