Social distancing while outside

How to protect yourself and others while walking, running and cycling outside.

I have been “exercising” social distancing, stay-at-home, and shelter-in-place behavior for the past week now. I am working from home while my child plays and learns online like hopefully, most Americans who are able, are also doing. Now I do go outside as a daily runner and dog owner, and also so my child and I can get some much needed exercise and stress relief. Before we started to go off, I told my son that if he sees another person on the sidewalk to ride around them in the grass so we can maintain at minimum a 6ft distance between us and others.

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Now at the beginning of our daily lunch break bike rides, my son was practically falling off his bike while trying to ride around each person he saw. We came across a lot of families and friends walking side-by-side and in small groups on the sidewalks, Mom’s and Dad’s with strollers, couples with multiple dogs, etc. and none of them were moving over, moving aside, or moving into the grass. When we moved over there were a lot of looks of surprise, which got me thinking. Do people not believe in social distancing? Do people know what social distancing entails? Are people wondering who should move over? Do I move over too? Do they know social distancing means 6 feet? Do they know what 6 feet is? One thing I do know, my running shoes were soaking wet!

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I keep people at least 3 feet away by not shaving my legs ๐Ÿ™‚ It works!

So I decided take this observation of sidewalk etiquette in the new era of social distancing to the internet and more specifically, to my community on NextDoor. This is what I posted:

May I respectfully request that if you are walking, running and cycling on the sidewalk that you please make an effort to move away from others who are passing you. I have been walking, running and cycling every day since this outbreak hit Florida and I am practicing social distancing and working from home, as a socially conscientious citizen and neighbor. Every time I see someone approaching me or my child, we both make every effort to move 6 feet away. Unfortunately, we have only been given the same due respect a couple of times. Like the beaches, if we cannot abide the recommendations, we will lose the privilege of being able to go outside. If you don’t believe in the current pandemic and social distancing, than please respect the people who do. Speaking my truth with love. Thank you”.

And the responses have really gotten me thinking….

“This needs to happen in grocery store lines”. (People aren’t social distancing in grocery stores either. Grocery stories aren’t communicating to customers or organizing how to social distance in our local grocery stores).

“I walk everyday since I stopped going to the gym and given that the width of the sidewalk is less than 6ft, it would be impossible to do so without one or both getting on to the lawn. But I do walk as far to the right of the sidewalk that I can without getting on the lawn”. (Some people don’t want or think they can walk on grass?)

More people than ever are outside exercising because their gyms and pools are closed.

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“Speaking for myself Iโ€™m more than happy for anyone to walk on my lawn if it helps them maintain that distance from someone else walking past!” (This person outweighs the the benefit of social distancing with the cost of trampled grass.)

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I run daily with my dog and if I see anyone come near us I make it a point to run on the lawn.. not sure why it’s difficult for some? It’s grass… it won’t bite.”

My response- “Me too. I will add, people please pick up your dog poop. Now that I am running and riding more in the grass, it is harder to avoid!”

Stepping in dog poop is a barrier to social distancing and social distancing increases the probability of stepping in dog poo ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

April Ingram that is really important since more people are outdoors now.. thanks p For pointing that out”. (The majority of comments were polite and people were appreciative of my request and bringing up the issue).

Which brings me to my conclusion, this is new territory. We as a community, as neighbors, as people, don’t know what to do EXACTLY. We don’t know what the rules of etiquette or engagement are for social distancing on sidewalks and outside and we need some help if we want people to social distance.

So here are my suggestions from my community…

“yes I agree and they also have the other side of the streetโ€™s side walk. Itโ€™s not like itโ€™s that packed most of the time. However it seems like Iโ€™m the only one volleying from side to side. Also you can still say hello to neighbors instead of looking away (kinda creepy/apocalyptic to me). People can be very weird during times like this but I think we just need to practice common courtesy, common sense and common kindness. Be well.”

“I like to walk in the evening, so here are my general rules of (dis)engagement: If I see people walking dogs or pushing baby carriages, I move off the sidewalk into the street until I go past them. It is easier and safer for me to do this than for them to do so. If I am walking with a friend and people are approaching us on the sidewalk, we line up single file on the very right side of the sidewalk so we can move past quickly without touching each other. What is frustrating is when others do not line up single file but rather continue walking abreast so that we all have to crowd past each other or trample people’s lawns. I have even seen groups of people just congregating on the sidewalks with their dogs and baby carriages, chatting away so that other walkers are forced to make a wide berth around them, going into streets or onto lawns. We need to all be considerate of others and not expect others to always move out of our way.”

Two keys points here I agree with: groups walking together should line up single file behind each other; and move to the right. I cannot emphasize moving to the right enough. Just like when you are cycling and trying to pass someone from behind, you always announce politely, “On your left”. Or if you are walking, running and cycling, keeping to the right so others can pass you.

Here are some of my “rules of social distancing” that I completely created in my head but that I accept as common courtesy:

  1. If I see someone or people who look elderly or has a physical impairment, I move off the sidewalk when passing them;

2. If I see someone with a stroller than I move off the sidewalk;

3. If I see kids by themselves, I move off the sidewalk and away from them. I think every parent or guardian can appreciate this. It cannot be assumed that kids are mature enough to know how to safely and politely move away 6 feet from someone;

4. Who am I kidding, I move off the sidewalk for everyone.

UPDATE: Since I posted on NextDoor I have noticed people moving off the sidewalk for me too ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah! This may be from leading by example. Another way to guarantee some ongoing compliance? Say, “THANK YOU!” and smile.

I’d love to read your comments about unspoken rules of sidewalk engagement and social distancing outside! Please comment below and let me know what you are doing and what you would like to see done when you or your family members are outside walking, running and cycling on sidewalks.

Finally for all my public health practitioners out there, I saw this today in regards to health communications. “Social distancing” is a new term to the majority of people. Most people don’t know what it entails. As health communicators, we need to help define what it means and communicate in messages that give people clear, known, specific, doable and concrete behaviors and actions. This is our challenge. I feel a social marketing project coming on….

Thank you for reading!

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