How do you enjoy summer and stay healthy? This question is top of mind as people emerge from COVID-19 quarantines and look for safe ways to enjoy the warmth and sun. Prof. Bill Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist in the College of Public Health has ideas on how you can get that done. He recently appeared on NPR, where he shared a simple four-word rhyme that can guide you to a safer summer.
Why should I think through the potential risks of each situation during the pandemic rather than approach every encounter with another person in the same way?
Every person in our society has different exposures. One might be going to work every day and coming in contact with lots of people while another is mostly staying home and going out to the grocery store only. Because those two people come into contact with different numbers of people, they have very different risks of acquiring COVID-19.
Why does it matter how much time I’m spending somewhere?
Time is important because it gives opportunity for the virus to spread. If you’re near someone who has COVID-19 for a few seconds in a grocery store, you’ll have little risk of becoming infected. But if you’re sitting next to someone in a waiting room for a half hour, and they are infected, your risk will be much higher because some time in that half hour, you may breathe in the virus.
What do you mean by “space”? I thought I was safe as long as I can maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Is there more to it?
That’s it really. Maintain that 6 feet of distance. But keep to it. People forget and creep in while they are talking.
How many people is a low-risk number of people to be around, assuming I’m taking all the other appropriate precautions including safe distancing and wearing a mask when possible?
Zero. No, really, here’s the thing: the fewer people, the lower the risk. The more people, the greater the risk. We never know for sure when we will encounter someone who is infected. If we are near zero other people in a day, we have no real risk that day. With one person in a day, we have a very small risk. But as the number goes up to 10, 20, 50, 100, our risk also goes up.
There are a lot of things I’d love to be doing right now, but I’m having a hard time deciding what activities are worth the risk. What would you consider a low-risk place for recreation, and an especially high-risk place?
Go outside. Take a walk. Go for a run. Ride a bike. Play tennis or golf or Frisbee. Just keep your distance in all of those activities and wash your hands afterwards, just in case. Go to the beach but keep your distance from the other groups. Go to a lake or a park or camping and maintain a safe distance from others.
One of the worst places to go would be a nightclub, especially one with poor ventilation. Dancing is a form of exercise, so people will breathe more heavily. And combined with the loss of inhibitions from alcohol, you have a recipe for many people to become infected.