As much of the world begins to emerge after bunkering down in their own homes (or at least limiting their social contact) during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Pierre Muller wants us all to be mindful of about how we, the lovers of the outdoors, return to our natural habitat. His fears are twofold: first, if we are reckless about social distancing, we could all end up back in a similar situation again soon; and second, now is not the time to overwhelm hospitals with injuries because you were eager to catch up on lost time outside. Here’s some basic advice from Dr. Muller to help keep you safe and healthy in the days ahead.
An emergency room doctor and certified mountain rescue operator in the northern French Alps, Pierre suffered through his own personal battle with COVID-19, which left him extremely ill during the month of March. Because mountains offer the opportunity to hike, run, and explore without coming in contact with too many people, Pierre is convinced that they will be a preferred summer destination for people who can access them. As a mountain guide, he understands and appreciates the draw of the mountains as much as anyone, but he’s urging people to have respect for the bigger world situation. One of his fears is that if we all start again with big group outings in which people are in close proximity to each other, we could be hit by a massive wave of COVID-19 cases mid-summer or in the fall.
“When we first go back outside, we need to behave in a smart way without too much socializing,” says Pierre, who served as the team doctor on several Salomon TV expeditions, including Eclipse and Guilt Trip. “Although different countries are moving at different speeds, we all must be smart enough to not lose the benefit of the shutdowns we have all just gone through. We don’t want to take a step forward and then have to take a step back.”
DON’T MAKE EXTRA WORK FOR HOSPITALS
Where Pierre works, in the hospital emergency room in Sallanches, France—not far from Salomon headquarters and even closer to the famed mountain town of Chamonix—approximately 50 percent of the patients who came to the hospital in March and April have been COVID-19 patients. While hospitals like this one that are not located in so-called COVID-19 “hot-spots” seem to have weathered the worst of the storm, they must now turn their attention to preparing for “normal” emergencies.
“Now we need to look after other patients who have been waiting for things like cancer surgeries and other health treatments,” Pierre says. “We have to do all these things before we deal with any trauma from sports, so we need people to continue to be responsible when they start to be active again. We don’t need lots of people getting hurt.”
EXERCISE IN VERY SMALL GROUPS
So what can you do to be safe as you return to being active in the outdoors? Pierre urges people to run with the same partners and not increase the number of people you meet in the early days when we are all back outside. He believes that until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, these new circumstances will require that we are all more open with each other about our health and how we feel, even if we don’t normally share this kind of information.
“Keep small groups, run with same partners, and make sure no one has any sign of COVID-19 up to three weeks before,” Pierre says. “If you run with a friend or two, and the next day you start to have a fever or some other symptoms, call your exercise partners back and keep sharing information.”
When exercising, Pierre also recommends we all increase the safe distances that we have been told about in the last few months.
“When the authorities and health officials speak about safe distances for health and safety rules, they speak about 1-2 meters,” he explains. “But when we push hard during training—like running up hills, for example—we speak about 5-10 meters between us because you spread the virus when you breathe hard more than if you were just walking comfortably. If you have to get closer, you should wear a mask.”
DON'T OVERDO IT AFTER A LAYOFF
A common mistake made by just about anyone who has had a long layoff from practicing sports is to rush out and overdo it. You won’t build up your lost endurance in one (or even three) runs, rides or climbs and the potential to be injured far outweighs the rewards of a harder training session in the first few days. Play the long game.
“There will be a future. We need to slow down a bit more and take our time a bit more, and this should be in the mind of the athlete as well,” Pierre says. “Stop doing so many things in a day. It has to be a slow process. Re-acclimatization is something experienced athletes know because they have come back from injuries before, so think of it as if you have had knee surgery. In this case, we have all essentially had the same injury and are starting from the same place.”
IF YOU FEEL SICK, TELL OTHERS
And if you have had a severe cold or illness recently, Pierre says it’s a good idea to consult with your general physician before you start training hard again to be sure you haven’t had any more serious illness that could set you back.
“It’s exciting to get back outside and start again,” Pierre says. “But the way hospitals are at the moment, most don’t have space to take care of sports accidents and other incidents that come with being outside.”