So...now what? Staying safe as the world reopens
It seems like every day, we're getting new information about what is allowed and the guidelines for different activities. Right now, they even vary by county! Confusing doesn't even begin to cut it. As governmental guidelines change, what should we do? How can we make decisions that minimize our risk while still doing activities that give our life meaning and joy?
Regardless of what politicians say, we will continue to have guidelines from public health officials in our area, and they will likely have the most up-to-date information about how to stay safe in your area. However, you still have to determine what decisions feel safe for you. Your own health, age, occupation, and the health status of your family members will likely affect your individual decisions. And because we know it's pretty easy to give the virus to others, in making good decisions for ourselves, we protect our whole community.
The reality is, as we move forward and out of shelter in place orders, we really will rely on every individual to make safe choices until we have a proven vaccine or treatment. That could be awhile, so what do we do in the meantime?
Luckily, due to how the virus spreads, there are simple things we can do regardless of the situation to lower our risk of infection.
Stay home if you are unwell or if anyone in your family is unwell. Hopefully, this will be a given for all of us long after the pandemic! If anyone in your home has any symptoms, get tested!
Steer clear of areas with lots of people and poor air circulation. We know it is easier to get infected when we spend long periods of time inside areas with poor ventilation in close proximity to others. This article describes some circumstances in which many others got infected. When people were in an enclosed space together, especially for any length of time, it was easier to pass the infection. The longer you're in contact with those who may be infected, the greater your chances of getting sick.
Wear a mask in any spaces where you will be indoors with folks not in your household. As we transition back to more activities, masks will be the new normal. They may take some getting used to, but if we wear masks, we actually have a great chance of controlling this virus because infectious people are less likely to spread the virus. While masks cover your mouth and nose, they don't cover your eyes, so it is important to wear masks in combination with physical distancing.
If you want to visit with friends and family, do so outside and from a distance. We know the virus struggles outside in the elements and we know the respiratory droplets that carry the virus tend to fall to the ground within six feet. So if we're going to spend time with our loved ones, we can do so at lower risk when we're outside and staying at least six feet away from each other. As our Wisconsin weather moves away from the frozen tundra category into beautiful summer, we're just in time to enjoy the great outdoors!
Wash your hands. This is solid advice even if we're not in a pandemic! A study in the military found that a program of washing your hands five times a day cut down on the number of respiratory infections by 45%.
Don't touch your face. If viral particles don't land on your face from an infectious person, they have to get there somehow, and they often hitch a ride on your fingers. Touch your face only with clean hands.
Eager for more reading on the subject? Check out some of these sources, like Atul Gawande's pillars for re-opening (screening, hygiene, distancing, and masks), the CDC's guidance on re-opening, a q&a with Madison experts, or this Atlantic article that looks at the risks of many different activities.