Let’s try a mental experiment where instead of avoiding getting the Covid virus, you’re actually trying to contract it. Like, what if you’re told that you have a rich uncle that says (because he’s, you know, crazy) if someone in the family is clinically diagnosed with the Virus, he will give that person a million dollars. You know that if you catch it, you have less than a 1 in 20 chance of dying from it, so you decide to go for it. You now want to catch Covid 19.

But how?*

Well, first you stop washing your hands, and you start touching your face. Like all the time. Then you leave your home. Obviously without any mask. But then what?

You remember reading this article that states that it’s possible to catch the virus from a stranger even while taking a walk (or biking or jogging) out in the great out of doors. And you say triumphantly, “Aha!” and choose that method.

But … then the math starts to get you down. Let’s say you live in my state, Minnesota, which currently has 1242 confirmed cases. And it has a total of 5.6 million people. That means only one in 4500 people actually have the sickness. And about half of them (675) have recovered. And those who are still sick with it aren’t out jogging.

But (you think optimistically) we keep hearing (accurately) that there are many people out there who have it in their system and are contagious but aren’t showing symptoms. Maybe, you guess, there are as many as ten time as many contagious people, some of whom might be out for a walk right now!

That lowers the odds to about 1 in 450. You’re standing outside and you think – that guy that just walked by at the park (not one with a mask, obviously!) there’s really less than a 0.2 percent chance that he has it. This makes you downhearted. But you start to follow him anyway, still trying to be glass-half-full about it.

As you walk, you check back in with the article and see that you have to be within 5 meters of him (in his “slipstream”) to have any chance of catching it. And you can only be directly behind him, because ‘diagonally’ the opportunity to catch the sickness from him is measurably less.

So you estimate the distance of 4.5 meters (you’re more of an Imperial system guy yourself) and then try to get that close to him without making him nervous. It’s really quite close. He keeps looking back at you. Maybe he thinks your about to mug him. But you smile and he eventually does his best to ignore you.

So far so good. If he’s one of the 1 in 450 you’re on your way!

But then you check back in with the article and it says you will only catch it if you’re in his slipstream AND the person coughs or sneezes. And you remember – the fact that this guy is out here almost certainly means he’s not symptomatic. If he was, he probably wouldn’t be exercising.

But still, maybe he’ll cough or sneeze eventually, right? You wait. He doesn’t. You follow him for several minutes.  Did he just cough? No, he’s just chuckling at something from the podcast he’s listening to.

And then … finally … he does cough! Kind of. Slightly. But into the crook of his arm! The odds that he just created a “cloud of droplets” that you might be able to harvest from his slipstream comes close to approaching nill!

“It’s hopeless!” you decide as you stop and walk home deflated. I’m never going to get Covid like this!

You decide your only recourse is to go lick the shelves in your grocery store’s empty toilet paper aisle.


My point is, you can give yourself permission to go for a walk.

* I did my best to not make any major errors here, but the odds that there are none in this thought experiment also comes close to approaching null.