For many Americans, it’s been months since they’ve actually seen a friend or loved one outside of their home. In March 2020, the U.S. joined countries around the world in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19—a respiratory illness that easily spreads person-to-person. During this time, we’ve resorted to creative measures to see loved ones—with things like FaceTime, car parades and window serenades.
We’ve now arrived at summertime and things are slowly starting to open up again across the country. You might notice more cars on the road, more people on your hiking trail and even families sitting down for dinner at restaurants. While state and local governments are slowly opening gyms, parks, restaurants and other businesses, you may wonder if it’s safe now to hang out, hug and share a drink with friends and loved ones in the flesh.
While organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization provide recommendations to protect you and help slow the spread of COVID-19, it really comes down to your personal decision.
“Each person needs to assess their own personal risk when deciding whether or not to participate in activities outside their home,” said Brandie Anderson, registered nurse and infection prevention director at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson. “Things to consider are your age, underlying medical conditions, viral spread in that location and what you can do to reduce your own personal risk in that situation.”
Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine if you feel you are equipped to “hang out” once again with those outside of your home.
Should I attend birthday parties, weddings and other social gatherings?
Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. These can be events planned by individuals—such as weddings and barbeques—or by organizations and communities—such as parades, festivals and sporting events.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have provided interim guidelines for organizers and staff responsible for these types of events and gatherings, the decision to attend or not is up to you.
Is it now safe to hug, kiss, shake hands, high-five a friend or loved one?
As humans, physical touch doesn’t just feel nice, it’s crucial to our overall health and well-being. And with people around the world practicing social distancing and self-isolation to curb the spread, some of us are feeling the negative effects.
So, even though the U.S. is slowly reopening, consider this before you run and tackle someone in a giant bear hug: COVID-19 can still easily spread from person-to-person, even when someone doesn’t show any symptoms. Nothing has changed in how it spreads, so follow social distancing practices and continue to wear a face covering where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
“Until we have a vaccine, an effective treatment and/or herd immunity, any time you are around other people, you are potentially putting yourself and others at risk,” Anderson said. “We know that some people will not feel symptoms of COVID-19 but will be actively spreading the infection without realizing it. Use your own personal risk assessment to determine what activities are best for you to participate in.”
The CDC has these recommendations for lowering your risk:
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Put distance (at least 6 feet) between yourself and others while outside of the home.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Monitor your health and watch for symptoms.
For the time being, you can work on perfecting that socially distanced high-five or air hug.
Should I wear a mask to the event?
Since COVID-19 can spread very easily and sustainably from person-to-person, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Several countries and some parts of the U.S. have made that practice mandatory.
While it might seem like an annoyance, wearing a cloth face covering can provide an extra layer to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people.
Check out this Banner Health article about the proper use of face coverings.
Can I eat the food at a party?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has verified there is no association between food and the transmission of COVID-19. While restaurants follow strict guidelines for food handling and preparation, the same may not be true at a party you are attending.
“I would avoid shared food if at all possible,” said Anderson. “If not possible, have dedicated food servers who are not ill, wash their hands frequently and are wearing gloves and a mask.”
Am I feeling sick?
Before you are around others or out in public, check for symptoms—do you have a fever, cough or other symptoms of COVID-19?
If you answer “yes,” stay home and call your doctor. Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and can recover at home without medical care. It’s important to be vigilant with your health and well-being, especially if you are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. Be sure to follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
Ways to still feel connected
It’s unclear when the spread of COVID-19 will subside or how we’ll be able to get back to “normal,” but it might be a while until handshakes and social hugging are acceptable again. If you are missing physical touch, here are some things you can do to help boost oxytocin—AKA the cuddle hormone.
- Practice self-care. Take a warm bath, self-massage, stretch, meditate or exercise. All these activities can help reduce stress and reconnect and ground you.
- Connect with loved ones with the help of technology. Schedule virtual dinner dates with family and friends, host a virtual movie or game night or partake in an online workout. If it is a large event like a wedding or bar mitzvah, ask if there will be a live video setup so you can watch from the comfort of your home.
- Write a letter or send a gift to a loved one or friend. Demonstrating gratitude and generosity toward others will not only make you feel better momentarily, it can also be good for your physical and emotional well-being and help you connect on a deeper level.
- It’s important for kids and teens to stay connected too. Help your children stay active and socially connected. Encourage outdoor play and exercise, reach out to family and friends on the phone or video chat and start a pen pal exchange with friends and loved ones.
Ultimately, the decision to engage in indoor and outdoor activities is a personal one, but remember to follow CDC guidelines to help ensure you and your loved ones are safe during this uncertain time. If you have questions or concerns, contact your health care provider to discuss your personal risks and any additional preventative measures.
For more information regarding COVID-19, visit bannerhealth.com.