Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Camping in the Time of the Coronavirus

I'm not going to tell you to not go camping during this coronavirus pandemic, but you know me, I do my research and then think about what I've learned, and there are a few things I want to share.

Because I'm a tiny travel trailer owner and have this blog, I belong to a number of tiny trailer and camping online social groups. In one, the administrator asked on March 13, three days ago as I write this, the following question: "Have you changed your camping or adventure plans?" The 177-person response was No (74%), Yes (14%), and Maybe (12%). At first glance, this could appear that the poll response overwhelmingly is to ignore the coronavirus epidemic that is sweeping the world. I don't think that is the case, though--at least I fervently hope not. Below are a few positive camping comments.
  • "I haven't changed plans yet but considering changing my hiking group plans and running away to the forest for a week . . . just me and my dogs!"
  • "Camping for a week to get away from the stress. Practicing self distancing."
  • I made the following comment: "If we camp, my wife and I will camp locally. There are more than six campgrounds within 25 miles of our home. We will 'self-isolate' with our camping."
This last week has resulted in huge changes in information and behavior patterns in the United States--and all over the world. Even over the weekend after this March 13 post, things changed bigtime. Some of that watershed change in information and attitude is reflected in the comments of this poll, as seen in an exchange regarding buying gas. One person comments: "How many times is the gas pump touched each day? Rubber gloves at the gas pump!" The response is the following: "Thanks! Got the gloves, hundred package from Home Depot. Lysol wipes, spray bottle of hand sanitizer. Who could of imagined this is all over?"

"Hunker down." Just because you feel OK doesn't mean you aren't carrying the coronavirus, research says.

Yes, who could have imagined? One expert who has imagined and dealt with epidemic realities is Dr. Anthony Fauci, "who in more than 30 years has handled HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola and even the nation’s 2001 experience with bioterrorism — the anthrax attacks." He has been providing clear, expert information regarding the coronavirus situation, and advocates self-distancing, isolation, and travel restrictions. He has indicated that we are not prepared for dealing with this crisis and that it's going to get worse. We're being told to "hunker down." An ABC news program provides an eleven-minute overview that includes Dr. Fauci speaking. His interview begins at 2:17 into the video. ("Things will get worse before they get better": Dr. Anthony Fauci) The video begins with a slam on the government, but Dr. Fauci states that the government is adapting. The doctor is factual, and his advice is useful. One thing is clear is that the situation is changing rapidly. Look what happened last week--travel restrictions, sport seasons cancelled, restrictions on group sizes, Disneyland properties closed.

The need for social distancing was the big movement last week, but it takes a while to filter into our brains and then for our actions. This weekend was a real learning curve for my wife and me. A neighborhood couple contacted us and those around us, believing they had possibly gotten COVID19. That was Friday morning. I realized that I had experienced a brief conversation outside in my garden with the wife of the couple, so my wife and I put our house under quarantine. A lot of local health service confusion led them to not get tested until late Friday afternoon--results to be available 4-5 hours later. A little over sixty hours later, Monday morning, we found out the couple did not have the coronavirus. The test was negative.

It was a big wake-up call for us. I'm working in the garden, minding my own business, and someone in the neighborhood comes up, saying, "My dog wants to see what you're doing." The dog pokes around a bit, the owner is the distance of a leash away, a bit of conversation, and then later in the week I'm wondering if I was infected. What have I learned besides knowing I wasn't infected by that contact? Stay at home as much as possible, a message explained in detail by ProPublica in an article. ("Stay Home")

Alone in the off-season. "A Camping Trip as Sweet as Honey"

"Home" can be our tiny trailer or RV or tent, though, and some are opting to interpret "social distancing" as finding a campground and spending time alone or interacting only with a spouse or family. In areas that are cold (or really cold, some might say) in the winter, campgrounds close or limit operations. Right now those campgrounds function according to off-season protocols, which often includes shutting down shower/flush toilets. The campgrounds are mostly empty, and the opportunity for social distancing is ample and easy. Camping for organized get-togethers during this pandemic, though, is contrary to social distancing and should be cancelled in order to "flatten the curve" of the number of people who are infected at one time, which will ensure that our medical facilities and staff are not overwhelmed. A recent analysis of China's coronavirus experience indicates that the virus is passed mostly be those with no or few symptoms of illness.
Six of every seven infections – 86% — were undetected in China before January’s strict travel restrictions, according to the team’s computer modeling. That time of unfettered travel and visiting was similar to life in bustling U.S. and European cities prior to new guidelines and restrictions.
“The majority of these infections are mild, with few symptoms at all,” but if transmitted they can kill the elderly or medically vulnerable, said Shaman. “People may not recognize it. Or they think they have a cold.”
A fellow camper who works in intensive care has changed his camping plans because of this epidemic. He added details about how too many illnesses can affect our health services. " I had planned on doing a mid-May northern Ohio camp out, but for now I'm waiting to see what happens. I do see a very real threat if we do not slow the spread. This has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system. People don't realize our ICUs on any given day are near capacity. If there is a sudden influx of severely compromised patients, there will not be enough beds, ventilators, and supplies to effectively care for them all. Throw into that the caregivers who become ill, and you'll be desperate to find people to care for the ill. This is very similar to the potential problems when H1N1 was happening. Unfortunately, this looks like it's going to hit us much harder."

Instagram @nationalparkservice, storyline.

Most campers feel they can control their social environment to self-isolate themselves. I think this is true. Even with tiny trailer campers, which are usually comment-and-gawker magnets because they're so "cute," it's pretty easy to just be on your own while camping--although it is more difficult on busy summer weekends. For me, the problem of camping in the time of coronavirus is not so much whether I can socially distance myself from others. I think we all can leave our houses with the mindset of not interacting with others and being prepared to tell others to limit their friendly approaches to the edge of the campsite. The real problems reside in the potential for interactions that are hidden, escape our best preparations, or are unforeseen. The best intentions on our part don't matter because the virus doesn't care. If contact is made, the virus is spread. Just by leaving our immediate area, the risk of contamination increases. Below are some examples related to camping that I have thought of.
  • Prepping for the camping trip. Buying gas, food, and ice are all contact points for possible infection. We know we can be infected by breathing in air which contains the virus. We know that hard surfaces can support an active infective substance for up to 72 hours. 
  • Make plans for unexpected, uninformed visitors. What will you do if you're in camp, minding your own business and cooking lunch, for instance, and another camper from down the way comes up to you, just gushing about how great a set-up you have with your cute little camper? We have two dangers to prepare for. 1) How to gracefully and effectively keep that camper out of our campsite. 2) To make sure we don't forget our situation and slip into being our usual cordial and accommodating selves.
  • Facilities. Pit toilets, flush toilets, sinks and showers, ice machines--anything we touch and any space where we are confined is a possible danger. 
  • Breakdowns and the unexpected. It's easy to forget that the unexpected can happen. What if we're traveling to or back from our camping trip, and our tow vehicle breaks down, or a wheel bearing on the trailer goes out, or someone pulls out in front of us and we have an accident, or a deer runs in front of us? Any of those scenarios will likely result in interactions with law enforcement, towing service, and possible lodging and food service (if it is available). Each contact point is a possible infection situation.
One teaching technique I used to employ was "keep the concept but change the details" in order to provide a different perspective of a situation. Let's apply this strategy here. The coronavirus is deadly, invasive, and tiny and invisible. Let's change the "invisible" and "tiny" qualities and see if that alters our perspective.

You've set up camp, and then unexpected visitors arrive from over the ridge. 

What deadly adversary can we replace the coronavirus with that is big and visible, yet still can infect us so that we can die and also infect others, even the ones we love? Zombies, of course! The zombie apocalypse is an appropriate perspective change. There is a contagion, it is deadly, and the ultimate search is for a safe haven. Let's just skip the macho reaction. Of course, if we had to, we'd defend ourselves from the zombies. But what if these zombies were invisible? What if a sword or bullet were no defense? Would we still go camping? "Back to nature" assumes an ugly face.

A Facebook tiny travel trailer group had a discussion about what to do in this time of the coronavirus. I added my opinion, pulling from articles I've recently read.
How to not be infected? Here is a behavioral strategy I read recently. Don't act to avoid getting the virus. Imagine you have the virus. How would you act to avoid infecting others and possibly causing their deaths? How would you buy your gas and camp supplies? How would you react if a friendly camper walked up to you? My point is that when you leave your home for whatever reason, plan to get from home to your destination and back with zero risk, if possible. If some risk is possible, then how important is the trip? Life or death important?
My recommendations are few and simple.
  • If you choose to camp, camp locally--in your driveway or in a campground close to home. This lessens the risk of spreading the contagion.
  • The experts say "over-react." Whatever we see in terms of the effects of the virus is old news, yesterday's news at its most current. The virus is ahead of us. The analogy I read was about lilies growing on a pond. First there is one, then two, then four. This continues for quite a few days until one day a quarter of the pond is covered with lilies. The next day the pond is half-filled, and the next day, the pond is completely covered with lilies. Over-reacting doesn't mean panicking, though. It means having a timely, thoughtful, and well-executed plan.
  • Think of others. We humans optimistically tend to think "it won't happen to me" and act accordingly. We are responsible for our actions, though, so we should ask, "How would I act if I had the virus and knew I was contagious?" Research has shown that the desire to protect others is a powerful incentive for us to change our behavior.
  • Follow the guidelines. Self-isolate, whether we define that as staying home or staying "home" in our campers. Honestly, we've seen that governments are unprepared and slow to react (and when I think "slow to react," I'm thinking of that lily pond analogy). Have a plan to stay at home (however you define it) if you can. If you work, have a plan to minimize your contacts. (Those who must work is a whole other topic, which is not the focus of this article. I must say, though, that as a gesture of regard, respect, and civility, we must all make sure that we keep a safe distance from those folks who are still working. And don't go out if we have any symptoms!)
I've referenced some good, informative articles so far, but I want to add a couple more in closing. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has an excellent page for information about how to protect yourself, what to do if you think you are sick, older adults, travel, business, and several other topics.

I found an article on the website KevinMD to be especially informative and useful. This website is self-described as "the web’s leading platform where physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses, medical students, and patients share their insight and tell their stories." The article, "A COVID-19 coronavirus update from concerned physicians," provides information about what the virus is, why it's dangerous, risks to ourselves and society, and "mitigation measures" to take to help ourselves, our families, and society.

If you choose to camp, I hope you don't travel far. Check to make sure the campground is open. Some are already closed. Don't feel guilty for finding appropriate activities to lessening the stress of the times--like maybe camping and hiking. Stay safe, though, and act in a manner that keeps others safe. COVID19 is an organism with a very simple, straightforward consciousness: it feeds and multiplies, and it multiples very quickly. Social distancing and quarantine was first used in Venice during the Black Plague. It worked. Let's be a part of the solution and get through this as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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  1. Very good article, Tom. Thank you for a common sense approach. I had not heard about acting as though you have the virus and are trying to avoid infecting others.

    1. It really says something positive about people that we want to do the right things for others.

  2. Thank you for rational thought. I am blessed to live in a beautiful place with open fields. Deer, turkey's, fox the occasional Eagle are a daily thing. Camping in the field is still camping. I just have to set my teardrop between me and the house so I can disconnect. Stay safe. Again thank you.

    1. I think that even if I camp in my driveway (with a large field across from us), we will have the safe feeling that we aren't endangering others.

  3. I tend to agree. That's why I advocate camping in your driveway or locally--and "very" locally. Also, I bring up the dangers of a breakdown that would cause necessary interaction. And what if you get sick? I didn't mention that in the article, but it's a major point. Thanks for taking the time to respond. The bottom line is that epidemics spread by travel.

  4. I have reservations at our local campground for mid-May. The site is my favorite there, totally surrounded by woods. Still, I camp in a tent and would use the central bathrooms...so possible contamination. As we get closer, if this is still a treat I'll have to cancel. I also have reservations in the UP for June...same thing. Feeling sad.

    1. I agree that the bathrooms would be the most dangerous point of contact--moist, hard surfaces and an enclosed space. Good health to you.