EUGENE, Ore. — With the arrival of warm weather, and as states begin to loosen months of lockdown restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s only natural that people are itching to get outside.
But what summer activities are safe during a pandemic? And with many air-conditioned movie theaters, libraries, restaurants and malls closed or limiting the number of visitors, where can people go to cool down?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises those without access to air-conditioned environments to take a cool shower or bath. Electric fans also can help.
“Sponging yourself down with a washcloth and sitting in front of a fan is a last-ditch effort if you don’t have access to air conditioning during a heat wave,” said Dr. Sam Keim, head of the University of Arizona Department of Emergency Medicine and director of the Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center in Tucson. “Evaporative cooling is very effective, except in the most extreme humidity.”
Swimming is another surefire way to beat the heat.
Keim believes the risk of catching COVID-19 is low at public lap pools if swimmers take proper precautions such as social distancing, avoiding the locker room and not touching surfaces on the way to the water.
“Use your swim cap as a glove to open any doors, and then douse your swim cap in the water,” he said. “The chlorine used to disinfect the water is known to be active against viruses. Don’t share a lane with another swimmer because of the proximity of your breathing.”
Because of social distancing, many people are opting to exercise alone.
“If you’re alone in the heat and incur a heat-related illness, there might not be anyone nearby to help you if you become ill from the heat,” he said.
Keim urged people with heat stroke symptoms to call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. Those symptoms include:
• A temperature of 104 F or higher
• Confusion, changed personality or other altered mental states
• Reddish skin
• Nausea and vomiting
• Rapid, shallow breathing
• A rapid heartbeat
• A throbbing headache
For those with less severe symptoms, such as heat rash, excessive sweating and muscle pain or spasms, “an air-conditioned environment is the rescue,” Keim said. “Heat stroke happens mostly in populations that don’t have access to air conditioning during heat waves” such as the homeless, certain elderly people and children left in cars.
According to Susan Yeargin, an associate professor of athletic training at the University of South Carolina who has researched thermoregulation and hydration, drinking enough liquid is crucial, especially in hot weather.
“If somebody is dehydrated, their heart will be working harder, and it will be pumping out less blood,” she said. “If other risk factors are there, that person is setting themselves up for a bad situation.”
With water fountains and coolers potentially off-limits because of COVID-19, Yeargin recommends people carry an insulated water bottle and fill it with an ice-cold liquid they enjoy.