Universities have long been offering “alternative spring break” trips to college students — often service projects, like helping build gardens in Guatemala or rebuilding homes in New Orleans, as Weber State students did in 2018.
This year, though, a lot more people, including the families of K-12 students who are learning from home, will have a different kind of alternative spring break — and they’ll be looking for ways to enjoy their time off while also staying close to home and practicing “social distancing” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Spring break is coming up in less than a week for schools across Northern Utah. School is out from Monday, March 30, through Friday, April 3, for Davis, Ogden, and Weber school districts, as well for Box Elder and Morgan districts.
Due to the recommendations of public health officials at national, state and local levels — who all advise limiting discretionary travel — many families are canceling their travel plans.
But the first question for those who haven’t yet canceled plans might be whether that action is really necessary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not “issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States,” according to its website.
However, Lori Buttars, spokesperson for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, says that canceling travel plans would certainly be in line with current recommendations.
“If you look at our (public health) order ... and the governor’s order, it asks people to stay home as much as possible,” Buttars said. “That’s pretty plain and simple, I think. When you say, ‘Should I take my spring break?’ that’s what we would refer you to.”
The same order closing dine-in service at Utah restaurants — issued on March 17 by the Utah Department of Health, in coordination with the governor’s office and Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force — recommends “that individuals avoid discretionary travel, inessential shopping trips and social visits,” the order says. It uses similar language to President Trump’s “Coronavirus Guidelines for America,” issued March 16.
Northern Utahns should also consider any restrictions in place at their destinations. Other states have issued orders to their residents to “shelter in place,” and Moab, for example, closed hotels to tourists through mid-April.
“They’re a very very very small health department, and they cover a lot of geography,” Buttars said, describing the health district that covers the Moab area, “and so, if they were to get a (COVID-19) case, and then have to follow all their contacts, they would get overwhelmed very quickly.”
If visitors bring COVID-19 to smaller Utah communities, and it spreads, it could also overwhelm the smaller health care facilities in these areas, Buttars said.
Though fees have been waived at state parks, Zion National Park recently closed a portion of the Angels Landing Trail, which went into effect Tuesday.
St. George publication The Spectrum reported that the park is crowded despite leaders’ calls for social distancing, and the park recently tweeted a photo of crowded hikers making their way along the Angels Landing trail.
“I think it’s important also to remember we’re in this ... for the long haul until a vaccine comes about or some sort of treatment,” Buttars said. “We’ve got to do these (social distancing and hygiene practices) regularly and be very thoughtful about our travel.”
As for staycation ideas, many state parks, including nearby Antelope Island State Park, are still open, though visitors should keep 6 feet between themselves and other visitors while there and be careful to maintain other hygiene practices, like washing hands or using hand sanitizer, Buttars said.
At coronavirus.utah.gov, the state recommends that families consider planting a garden or starting a big puzzle or family game. Parks and outside activities are also safe if people keep their distance from each other, the site says.
Respondents to a call for ideas on social media suggested that a family “drive-in movie,” camping in the backyard, or forts made out of blankets and cardboard boxes might be just the things to raise lonely spirits.
Another respondent recommended a scenic drive, like the one from Ogden to Monte Cristo and back down through Logan, where spring flowers and a host of other creatures are in view.