The Trail Foundation recommends people exercise as close to home as possible and stay off the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our message to those who love the Trail is this: it will be there for us when this season passes," the foundation’s CEO Heidi Anderson said. "Now is the time to let the Trail rest while we do. We need to do our part, stay home, take care of ourselves and our families, and also the larger community.”
Austin-Travis County announced a stay-at-home order Tuesday that goes into effect at midnight and lasts until April 13. The order allows for outdoor activity, including walking and bicycling — as long as people comply with social distancing requirements.
There are parts of the 10-mile trail that make it difficult for people to stay 6 feet apart in accordance with those requirements, says the foundation, which doesn't have the authority to close the trail.
The number of people using the trail has not decreased in the past two weeks, Anderson said.
"Many people are not practicing social distancing and other critical steps to avoid spreading the coronavirus,” she said.
If you do use the trail, the foundation says it's “extremely important” to stay at least 6 feet from others, don't leave home if you're feeling sick, alert others to your presence by saying "on your left" when you pass and step aside to let others get around you.
Exercise equipment will be closed around the trail, but restrooms and water fountains will stay open.
"We highly recommend NOT using them as it's not possible to guarantee safe levels of hygiene," the foundation said.
Dr. Elizabeth Douglass, an infectious disease specialist at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, told KUT that people should consider jogging in quieter residential neighborhoods if that is an option, as there are now fewer cars on the street and people should be able to keep a safe distance.
Some joggers have also wondered if the very act of exercising, with its inherent heavy exhaling and inhaling, may leave them more vulnerable to taking in the virus.
“If you’re really close to someone you could inhale that [virus-infected] droplet,” Douglass said. “That’s where the science is telling us to be 6 feet away because it’s not going to travel super far.”
People should also be aware of the risk involved in using public exercise equipment, and that goes for kids as well as adults.
“We know that the transmission of this virus is by droplets,” says Douglass, who said she can easily envision the virus spreading on “a playground where the kids’ hands are contaminated.”
“Fortunately, most children are not getting sick, but they shed the virus, they carry the virus, and many of them are asymptomatic,” she said.
Douglass does not think these concerns should dissuade people from outdoor exercise, only encourage them to seek less crowded places to do it.
“Good thing that we live in Austin,” she said. “We have a lot of open-air spaces.”