Today, in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, a group of 16 runners passed by my car on Markham near the Capitol. They were laughing, having a good time, getting fit — and endangering us all.
They aren’t alone. On the river trails, packs of cyclists and runners are training together; groups of friends are exercising or hanging out in our city parks. Some are super fit athletes and some are just getting in shape a little.
All of them assume they are doing a healthy activity that doesn’t increase their risk to COVID-19. I doubt any of them think they are endangering the health of their loved ones, vulnerable strangers or the doctors and nurses we all need right now. They are wrong.
Our health professionals are begging us to take social distancing seriously right now. They say you can be infected and contagious with COVID-19 for two weeks before showing any symptoms. They say that as many as 25 percent of people will be carriers for the virus, but never show any symptoms at all. They also say that very large numbers of people will get desperately sick and our hospitals will be overwhelmed. Many of our doctors and nurses will become sick, and hundreds of thousands of Americans will die.
The simple truth is that every interaction you have with another person who you don’t live with during this crisis increases the risk to all of us. It doesn’t matter if that interaction is a bike ride, a run or a beer. It helps a little if you keep to smaller groups, but it helps a lot more if you avoid groups altogether.
Some of the people who get sick and die will likely be people you know. Looking at the disease in Arkansas, you very likely know people who are already infected and don’t know it yet. Even if you are the biggest health nut in the state, it’s possible you may already be infected and not know it yet.
I have family and friends who are health care professionals who are genuinely scared for their personal safety in the coming weeks because federal and state authorities are failing to give them the safety gear and testing equipment they need to handle this crisis. These are not people prone to overreaction. They are worried about their ability to care for the rest of us when their health is compromised. Do you really want to ask them to take on even more risk so you can get in a good ride or run with your buddies, or to just hang with friends?
Look, I’ve raced bicycles since I was 13 and I’ve been everything from an elite athlete to a weekend warrior in that time span. I love riding bikes and I NEED to do it to stay sane and healthy. I get it. I’m still riding my bike — by myself. I have two sons and a wife, and we’re still going on family rides and hikes, but we’re being careful to avoid others when we do.
Please keep running, cycling, playing ball — whatever it is you do — but do it by yourself for a few weeks. This is a time to focus on your health and reconnect with nature. Please do that alone or with your immediate family. We’re lucky to live in Arkansas where there are millions of places to do that. If your favorite park or trail is crowded, move to another one.
Some places have banned outdoor exercising all together — people weren’t following social distancing rules and their health systems were so overwhelmed from the disease that they couldn’t handle treating a broken wrist or sprained ankle if someone had an accident. That is where we are heading if we don’t flatten the curve and take some strain off our health system in Arkansas.
I’m not trying to self-righteously preach at you. I’m far from perfect. But some of y’all are worrying me. Please listen to our health professionals. You don’t want to risk the health of your parents or grandparents, the buddies you train with, the clerk at the grocery store, or a nurse or doctor. The faster we can flatten this curve, the sooner we can get back to doing what we love together, and there will be more of us still around to enjoy it.
Bill Kopsky is executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.