After almost two months of stay-at-home orders in the U.S. due to the coronavirus, some 35 states have started to reopen their economies. This means that in many places, outdoor venues are fair game for crowds as summer approaches, and you might have the chance to get a much-needed haircut.
But because your community is reopening, can you safely venture out freely? The answer depends on where you live and what precautions you take.
For example, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening emphasizes the importance of cleaning facilities that haven't been open for a while.
And the number of cases in your area might mean it's safer for you to go out than for people living in hot spots, Dr. Mary Schmidt, an infectious disease physician and professor of clinical medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University's campus in Annandale, Virginia, told TODAY.
That said, many experts have concerns about premature reopening.
Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency medicine physician at Northwell Health in New York City, said he expects to see "the numbers go up exponentially" in coming weeks. "Nothing about (the immunity of) our bodies (has) changed in the past month, and we don’t get a gold star for trying," he added.
Dr. Sten Vermund, dean of Yale's School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, said that he'd like to see communities experience a steady decline in cases for two weeks before reopening.
Regardless of your feelings about reopening guidance, you'll likely encounter more people outside the home than a few weeks ago. So here are strategies from public health experts to reduce transmission.
At the office
If your employer has reopened, then you'll be exposed to dozens of people at work. So try to:
- Take public transportation during off-hours, and sit far away from fellow riders, or use your own car or another private method.
- Take the stairs or wait for the next elevator to minimize crowding.
- Establish a morning routine of disinfecting surfaces in your work area, including mouses and keyboards.
- Wear a face mask when leaving your work area. If you work in an open environment, wear it all day.
- Clean your hands every time you touch a communal surface.
- Continue to hold all meetings virtually.
- Practice social distancing as much as possible.
- On breaks, avoid shared spaces, such as cafeterias. Consider eating outside alone or at least 6 feet apart from a co-worker.
In some states, restaurants are allowed seat patrons at 25% capacity. But Cioe-Pena stressed the importance of still opting for takeout or delivery whenever possible. If you choose to sit down, then:
- Wear a face mask, and only remove it to eat your food.
- Don't eat with your hands.
- Bring your own materials to disinfect your seats, table, utensils, menu, etc.
- Sit outside.
- Opt for quieter restaurants as loud talking can project germs into the air.
- Skip bars if there's a high case count in your area.
- Keep your group separate from those around you.
At hairdressers and salons
Depending on your risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, consider forgoing appointments at places that require close contact. Otherwise, you should:
- Call ahead to find out what protocol they're following. Hand hygiene for people providing these services is crucial.
- Only go to places that space out timing of appointments and physically distance customers.
- Ask your stylist to wear a face mask, and wear one yourself. Try one that goes around the ears so your hair is still accessible.
While essential businesses have stayed open, other retailers are opening their doors. In general, follow the same guidance you would at a grocery store, like minimizing time spent, social distancing while in the store, and practicing hand hygiene as soon as you leave. Also:
- Wear a face mask.
- Go during off-hours.
- Take advantage of options that reduce your time in the store, like curbside pickup.
- Pay online or over the phone ahead of time.
- Prioritize stores that have processes to reduce infection, such as limiting the number of people inside and spacing out lines.
- Consider ordering online or waiting until the outbreak has slowed down more to make your purchase.
- Practice social distancing, and avoid crowded locations.
- Don't participate in group activities with people you're not quarantining with.
- Whenever you're not able to maintain social distance, wear a mask.
- If the parking lot of your destination is crowded, consider going somewhere else.
Many gyms have restrictions in place to limit transmission in their facilities, such as taking visitors' temperatures, but there's still a risk from close proximity to people breathing heavily. Follow these practices:
- Call ahead and ask staff to explain in detail new safety protocol.
- Keep at least 6 feet of distance, but preferably more.
- Wear a mask.
- Don't exercise next to or behind someone.
- Bring your own towel and water bottle.
- Wipe down equipment yourself.
- Prioritize virtual classes and training.
- Stay away from other people in swimming pools
- Skip the gym altogether if you're high risk.
To be as safe as possible, especially if you're at high risk of developing severe symptoms from the coronavirus, don't change your behavior because your state is reopening, Cioe-Pena said.
Here are some other measures to follow whenever you leave your home:
- Wear a face mask, especially if you come within 6 feet of other people.
- Practice regular hand hygiene.
- Avoid touching your face in public.
- Practice social distancing of 6 feet as much as possible.
- In parking lots, leave as quickly as possible and wear a mask.
- Stay apprised of transmission rates in your community. For a more accurate reading, triple the reported case count.
Last, think critically about the consequences of leaving your home for a nonessential activity.
"The decisions we're making aren't about personal risk," Cioe-Pena explained. "Your decisions may determine who in your community lives and dies."