Navigating the Outside in 2020: Re-opening Considerations | Newtown Moms

Last month, I had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Fanta Waterman, a Danbury mom to Kirin (age 8). We spent time talking about COVID-19 and the challenges/questions/considerations many of us are facing as parents. Dr. Waterman offered to contribute the piece below. Not only is she a mom to a little boy who loves art & science, but she is also an award-winning researcher in the Public Health Systems & Services sector and founder of Serrette Brown Research & Consulting, LLC


Dr. Waterman has held leadership roles in Health Research Evaluation and Market Access, with positions in government agencies, consulting firms, large international biopharmaceutial companies, and start-ups.


With numerous publications, Dr. Waterman is also a seasoned lecturer having taught as an adjunct Associate Professor within the City University of New York from 2008 to 2013. Dr. Waterman has served on abstract review committees for Academy Health and the American Public Health Association, and was invited to participate in an expert roundtable, “Developing an Integrated Regulatory and HTA Strategy to Demonstrate and Communicate Value to Key Stakeholder” at the 2017 annual meeting of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy.

As Covid-19 has limited most outdoor activities, I spent the Spring of 2020 going on lots of hikes. Destinations like Kent Falls, Lake Waramaug and Southford Falls reminded me just how beautiful the state of Connecticut is, and I’ve really come to love living in the mountains. 


I’ve been fortunate to visit about a dozen different state parks, greenways, nature preserves and parks over the past three months, but there was one I actively avoided. Having enjoyed hiking for over 20 years, I’ve managed to stay safe on my many walks; one of the few times I’ve completely wiped out, however, was at this park I was avoiding. It’s not a very long hike, but it’s fraught with lots of silt to make the hilly trail slippery, exposed tree roots, cliffs and bugs. I remember falling and, aside from the pain, being really mad at myself for being careless. Since then, even the thought of the place made me uncomfortable. These days I typically hike with my son, and so the safety risks gave me plenty of reason to explore the outdoors elsewhere. This weekend he was away enjoying Father’s Day with his dad, though, and so after wrapping up my chores, errands and garden work early, I found myself itching to move outside on a gorgeous Saturday.

Source: Texas Medical Association

I got in the car and headed out. Instead of turning right where I usually do to sneak in a quick walk, I drove a little further and found myself in a familiar parking lot. “Why not?” I told myself, as I grabbed my water bottle and started out. No more than one hundred feet into the walk, I was slapped in the shin by a branch sticking out of the ground. Another fifty feet, and I tripped on a tree root. I rolled my eyes and reconsidered; didn’t the Greenway in Brookfield open back up this weekend? In the end, I decided on the blue blaze and kept walking. 


I found my stride after a few minutes, and was pleased to feel my heart rate going up. When I came to a mud puddle, I was unsuccessful in crossing it and my right foot got soaked. “It hasn’t rained in days – why is this even here?!” I blurted out to no one. Now I had to keep walking so my foot could dry before I got back to my car. Ugh. 


I reached the first vista and was immediately reminded why this place is so popular. I took about a dozen pictures and kept walking. A curious bee buzzed along with me for a while, and eventually realized I didn’t want company. There were a few more slips and trips but there were also gorgeous views off jagged cliffs, more types of birds than I’d seen on any of my other hikes during Spring, bugs with beautiful colors, and the sweetest scents I’d smelled in a long time, thanks to lots of fallen flower petals. I misread the blazes and got lost (I swear, I am an experienced hiker!) and discovered what I can only describe as a tiny amphitheater. When I finally spotted a clearing, I walked towards it and found myself on Lover’s Leap bridge, and I was struck by the lesson I’d just learned. 


As regions around the world “re-open” after quarantine in response to Covid-19, many are faced with decisions about how and where they will spend time at work, with extended family and friends, and at outdoor activities; who they can safely spend time with, and even how their children will return to school in a few weeks.  When deciding the best plan for you or your family while reducing risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 (especially in regions that are experiencing a surge in cases, or anticipating a second wave), there are several things to consider:


  1. What are the local provisions where you live? Are masks required? Are there other limits or restrictions for entry into public places, or to travel destinations? What is your level of comfort as it relates to risk (this is important!)?
  2. What is your or your family’s specific health situation? Are any of you considered to be at increased risk for negative health outcomes of Covid-19 (e.g., elderly, immune-compromised, diagnosed with a respiratory illness, or someone employed as an essential worker)? The World Health Organization (WHO) provides recommendations on how to navigate decisions for this group.
  3. When thinking about your employment options, what can you personally accommodate in terms of reducing risk (i.e., are you able to support virtual learning students full time at home this Fall while working full time)? It’s important to remember that your emotional well-being should be thoughtfully considered here.
  4. Are you able to access testing for Covid-19 disease, or antibody testing? How often?


The level of risk each family is willing to assume will depend on the questions above, as well as personal preference.  This infographic developed by the Texas Medical Association is a helpful reference in making decisions that ranks various activities from 1-9. 


There will likely be a lot of discussion about what to do, and perhaps a little anxiety, too; it is important to understand that there is no “perfect” solution, and that the transition from quarantine to re-entry will likely be uncertain at times, and may require retracing your steps to ensure you and your family stay safe. 


The year 2020 is just a little more than halfway done, and it’s already been more than enough pain, fear and loss for a lifetime. I’ve been touched by Covid-19 personally, and have been affected in the wake of the recent spotlight on racism and injustice in America. I’ve witnessed and experienced loss of loved ones, friends and colleagues due to illness, disappointment and anger. It’s been a lot; if I’m being honest, I am a little anxious about the rest of the year, and some days I wish we could just fast forward to a new year and a fresh start. But that’s not real life. Life is slippery. There’s cliffs, lots of ways to get stung, and many of us go through much of it feeling lost. But there’s so much beauty, too, if you’re willing to be brave and really experience it, even when it takes you through the mud. You just have to keep going and keep an eye out for the sights, sounds and smells that bring joy. 


So please, keep an open mind and an open heart. Trust your friends and loved ones to be vulnerable with them, whether it’s to talk about your experience or feelings surrounding the pandemic, prejudice, indifference, and even your hopes for the future. If we begin with trust and walk with kindness, we will always eventually end up at a place of love. 

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