Area residents cannot go to their favorite gyms or neighborhood yoga studios, at least not for another month. Swimming pools are off limits, too, and so are basketball courts.
As for the outdoors, it’s wide open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many businesses closed and social distancing required under the “stay-at-home, work safe” order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who on Tuesday extended the order through the end of April, many people in the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas are spending most of their time cooped up in their houses, apartments or townhomes. But they can enjoy a reprieve by exercising outside – as long as they stay at least 6 feet away from each other.
So walks, runs and bicycle rides have become increasingly popular as the weather warms up and local residents aim to stay safe, stay in shape and stay sane.
“I think getting out exercising right now is great, and hopefully those who weren’t as active before will keep it up,” area resident Jennifer Graves wrote on Facebook. “Exercise keeps our stress low, which keeps our immune system strong. I went for a run/walk (Monday night) and everyone was super considerate about giving each other space.”
Graves was one of several readers who responded to The Leader’s Facebook inquiry about exercising during the pandemic. Many said they are working out at home, in some cases using digital video conferencing to receive instruction and inspiration from personal trainers or local gyms and yoga studios, while others are venturing out and utilizing neighborhood parks and trails.
In addition to jogging in her Timbergrove Manor neighborhood, Kallie Benes said she and her children have been walking and biking at places such as Jaycee Park, West 11th Street Park and White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail along T.C. Jester Boulevard.
The City of Houston and Harris County are leaving their parks open during the stay-at-home order, although the use of playgrounds, benches and sport courts are prohibited. Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday that he had asked the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to remove rims from basketball goals at city parks, because groups of people were gathering to play.
Hidalgo said even throwing a Frisbee with another person could pose a risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, because people could be touching it with contaminated hands.
“Folks who are walking or jogging, riding their bikes, two people, three people, that’s exactly what we want to see,” Hidalgo said Monday. “I’m just so grateful for it.”
But not all parks are open, and not everyone in the area has witnessed the recommended social distancing practices on area trails. The Houston Heights Association announced last week that Donovan Park, which consists mostly of wooden playground equipment, would close so it could adhere to the guidelines outlined by Hidalgo.
Linda Pelczar Unger said she’s seen trails “packed” with people, making her wonder how safe it is to use them.
“The traffic on these trails are four to five times the normal flow,” Unger wrote. “The amount of folks on the trails seems to be a huge potential for passing the virus along. I see groups of more than 10 in large piles along the trails.”
Alexis Montle Eaton said she’s been walking her dog more often lately but tries to avoid the busiest times of day so she can avoid crowds. She said she likes T.C. Jester Park because it’s “nice and big and provides lots of distance.”
Lisa Martinez said she and her husband have been riding their bikes in an empty church parking lot across the street from their home.
No matter people’s preferences, there are ample opportunities to work out while enjoying the outdoors. While working from home, Belinda Medina said she’s expanded her routine of doing Beachbody workouts indoors.
“I’m also going on bike rides and jogging some, too,” she said. “I’ve been getting lots of exercise for sure.”