Leaving Town to Escape the Coronavirus Is a Really Bad Idea. Here's Why

A closed sign is posted in front of a parking lot at China Camp State Park on March 25, 2020, in San Rafael, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Update: April 9, 2020

Under the shelter-in-place directive, Californians can still enjoy the outdoors. You can walk your dog or enjoy a local hike, as long as you stay away from other people. However, experts say it’s not a good idea to leave the city and cozy up in a vacation home, rent an Airbnb or go camping. 

The reason: The more we move around, the easier it is to spread the coronavirus. Every time someone reaches for a gas nozzle, uses a public restroom or buys food at the grocery store, they leave germs behind. You could be transmitting the virus even if you're not sick yet -- you might not show symptoms for 14 days, or in some cases, longer.

Officials have asked us — really, they're almost begging us — to sit tight. State campgrounds are closed. Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are closed. Last weekend, A number of Bay Area parks and beaches are also closed. AirBnb and other online vacation rental companies are offering refunds. 

“Our locals have welcomed visitors from around the globe for generations, but right now, our community needs the time and space to protect our loved ones and health resources,” says the official North Lake Tahoe visitor website. “The Sierra region will be ready to welcome visitors back when this crisis is behind us, but now is the time to stay put.”

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Small towns do not need urban visitors bringing in the virus, nor do you want to get critically ill from COVID-19 in a remote location. 

“We have a small, rural, geographically isolated community hospital,” says Clay Josephy, an emergency physician in South Lake Tahoe. “We don’t have a cath lab, or a neurosurgeon, or interventional radiology.”

Josephy says he’s worried about Tahoe's capacity to meet patient needs if the community receives a surge of coronavirus cases.

“You need a bunch of ventilators,” says Josephy.  "And you need a bunch of devices that can provide respiratory support. We have very limited numbers of all of the above. And it would be very easy to overwhelm that system.”

A tiny ski town in Blaine County, Idaho is living Josephy’s nightmare. In mid March, Sun Valley reported its first positive case, and the coronavirus spread quickly. Many health care workers were exposed to the virus in the early days of treating initial cases. 

"We exceeded medical capacity in just 12 days," says Terry O'Connor, Blaine County emergency medical services director. “We took a big hit in our medical capacity with losing a lot of personnel.“

A quarter of the health care workers at the only local hospital in Sun Valley were quickly sickened or quarantined. The hospital ran low  on testing kits, ambulances, inhalers and breathing support machines. 

"This is a cautionary tale for a little, rural, critical access hospital," says O'Connor. "You know this is going to play out in so many other places in the weeks to come.”

The virus has killed 18 people in Idaho, five of which lost their lives in Blaine County. O’Connor assumes the virus arrived in airplanes filled with residents from urban centers. Many people from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle have second homes in the area. 

If you’re  starting to feel a little stir crazy, there are lots of online activities and resources popping up. Michael Franti and his wife, Sara Agah Franti, are conducting a daily "Stay At Home Concert World Tour." There are quarantine book clubs. New York nightlife has moved online, reports The New York Times, with DJs and singalongs. And if you're craving intellectual engagement, San Francisco's Commonwealth Club is set to launch a series of free online programs.

Here's a roundup of KQED's tips to take care of yourself during these crazy times, and this list includes books to read, music to listen to, movies to watch and safe outdoor excursions.