As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, millions of Americans have been staying at home for months, either entirely or with only limited excursions for essential reasons such as visiting the doctor or buying groceries.
Many parts of the country reopened their economies in June, offering tempting options for getting out of the house and adding variation to the day. At the same time, cases of COVID-19 began to soar, setting new daily highs for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Now, millions of Americans are facing tough choices about what is safe for them and their families to do. While national, state, and local governments, and even business owners, may make the decisions about what is open and what is not, it is the individual who must decide whether or not to partake, and if so, how. You ultimately have the responsibility, and power, to weigh the options and keep yourself safe.
Essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies have remained open throughout the pandemic. Other retailers may be open for in-store shopping and/or curbside pickup, depending on local regulations and corporate decisions.
When going to the supermarket, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing a cloth face covering, staying at least 6 feet away from people not in your household, and using hand sanitizer when you leave a store . It is best to shop at stores that require employees and customers to wear face coverings and stay socially distanced.
The CDC suggests using online services "whenever possible." Many stores offer contactless grocery pickup. You can also get your groceries delivered from many grocery stores directly or via third-party apps. The CDC suggests washing your hands or using sanitizer after collecting your packages or mail.
Here, too, takeout and delivery are safest, and contactless payment and transfer of food are best. If you want to eat at the restaurant, look for outside seating that is well-spaced, and consider calling ahead to make sure servers are wearing cloth face coverings. Washing or sanitizing hands before entering the restaurant and waiting outside before being seated also lower risk.
Summer may mean a getaway in normal years, but what do the experts say about traveling? The CDC has some advice and considerations for potential travelers, including a warning: "Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick." Exploring local hiking trails, playing in the sprinklers, trying new recipes, and signing up for online fun such as book clubs, classes of all types, and tours of world-famous museums may be among the safest options.
Traveling by air, RV, bus, train, and car all pose a different set of risks, such as being within 6 feet of others on a plane, or needing to stop for gas and bathroom breaks on a road trip. Domestic travelers will need to check local restrictions, such as the need to self-quarantine when changing districts. Extra items to pack include plenty of sanitizer, disposable gloves, and disinfectant wipes, and you may want to clean your hotel room upon arrival.
International travel can be particularly tricky, as some countries are not allowing Americans to enter, and self-quarantines may be required upon arrival in the destination country or upon return to the U.S.
Visiting Family and Friends
How long has it been since you saw some of your cousins or other extended family, or some of your friends? For many of us, it feels like forever, and the urge to get together can be pretty strong. It is safest to stay away from people outside your household, but the CDC has guidelines if you want to get together.
Wearing cloth masks.
Placing families at tables together and spacing tables 6 feet apart.
Having everyone bring their own food, utensils, and plates, or at least having one person serve the food instead of having it buffet-style.
Having plenty of sanitizer available.
Disinfecting common surfaces.
Making sure that nobody has symptoms of COVID-19.
Play Dates, School, and Daycare
Concerned and overworked parents are facing tough decisions about their children. Should they send them to school or keep them home? Do kids need play dates for socialization? Can kids get COVID-19? Can they spread it?
At this point, the CDC recommends that children stay socially distanced, too . "While school is out, children should not have in-person playdates with children from other households. If children are playing outside their own homes, it is essential that they remain 6 feet from anyone who is not in their own household."
Socially distanced playdates may be possibilities for older kids or certain younger kids. Older kids may be comfortable using technology, such as video chats and texting, to keep in touch with their friends.
As for school, the situation varies depending on the age of the children, the severity of COVID-19 in the region at the moment, as well as family factors, such as whether parents are working and whether anyone in the household is in a high-risk group, such as older adults and people with certain chronic conditions.
Many districts have already announced that instruction will take place online when school starts in the fall, and other districts are trying to decide between in-person, hybrid, and fully online models. Parents need to make their own decisions about their level of comfort with COVID-19 risk and how they feel their children will do in various situations.
Other Forms of Entertainment
Bars, gyms, and libraries may be open, but does that make them safe? Though they may close periodically when COVID-19 cases rise in a region, it is up to you to determine risk during times when they are open. Avoiding indoors places that may be crowded or where people may be sweating or shouting is best practice. If you must go, placing holds on books and having a librarian bring them to the curb, wearing face coverings, and using sanitizer frequently is the best way to protect yourself.
The burden of COVID-19 continues, and we continue to face tough daily choices. Staying informed about the risk and how best to lower it can help keep you and your family safe. While it may seem like you are giving up some fun times, staying healthy during this time is invaluable.
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