It’s springtime in Alaska. Here’s how to practice social distancing while enjoying the Great Land.

Both dogs and humans observe social distancing during a sunny early April day at Sandy Beach on Douglas Island. (Photo courtesy Matt Miller)

For those who are itching for a break from hunkering down and want to keep active outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s chief medical officer suggests wearing a mask and increasing your distance with others.

These and other recommendations come as more people spend time outside in the Alaska spring weather.

When George Schaaf, parks and recreation director for the City and Borough of Juneau, takes his dog out for a walk at Juneau’s Twin Lakes or Savikko Park, he notices more people than usual.

“Parks are definitely busy for this time of year, which is understandable,” Schaaf said. “I think it’s great that folks are getting out.”

“At the same time, people seem to be observing social distancing, and there’s still quite a bit of space between people, which is a good thing,” he said.

That social distancing is to avoid passing COVID-19 to each other while outside.

Schaaf has a suggestion for cyclists and runners out together, even on a remote trail.

“If you’re running down a trail, it’s a really great idea to extend that to be maybe 20 feet,” Schaaf said. “And make sure you’re announcing to others that you’re coming up the trail.”

That’s actually what Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink recommended in a video posted April 4, especially if you’re out on a trail breathing hard.

“We know that when we exert ourselves, we have a higher chance of being able to spread our voice and our breath further, and that COVID could potentially spread further,” Zink said.

She also suggested wearing a mask while being active outdoors.

Social Distancing Outside

How can you recreate outside while practicing social distancing? Because we get asked this question often, Dr. Anne Zink filmed this short video to show you how she stays safe while going on a run. Dr. Zink says to always keep a minimum of six feet from others; even more space is needed when you are exercising and breathing hard. Alaskans: Social distancing before it was cool! This topic is also addressed in our FAQs: dhss.alaska.gov/News/Documents/press/2020/FAQs_03272020-SOA-COVID-19-Health-Mandate-011-012.pdf

Posted by Alaska Health and Social Services on Saturday, April 4, 2020

Along those same lines, the U.S. Forest Service has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people in national forests, including the Chugach and the Tongass.

Chad VanOrmer is the acting deputy regional forester for the Forest Service in Alaska.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is align with the current, federal, state and local guidance on social distancing just to ensure the health and safety of all of our visitors to the national forests, as well as our employees and volunteers,” VanOrmer said.

When VanOrmer leaves his office in Juneau, he likes to spend his free time out in the forest that he helps manage. He and his family prefer hiking the less-used trails Out the Road, north of Juneau. On the rare occasion they approach someone to pass, they usually just step off the trail first.

VanOrmer said rangers or law enforcement officers can issue citations for people gathering in large groups, like those family reunions at Auke Recreation Area or that barbecue at Skater’s Cabin. But that’s a last resort. Instead, he said they always start with an “inform and educate” approach.

Indoor facilities like the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center in Juneau are already closed. But VanOrmer said they’re also encouraging visitors to stay away from crowded outdoor areas or avoiding the forest entirely during peak periods.

Also, use your bathroom at home, not the outhouses or restrooms on federal forest land.

And, of course, pack out your trash.


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