Wondering what's safe as states start to reopen? Here's what some public health experts plan to do
As state and local governments begin to allow businesses and public spaces to reopen, you might be having difficulty deciding when and where to venture out.
Though the rules and remaining restrictions differ by state, and even within them, The Washington Post asked three public health experts where they generally will - and won't - go, how they'll make those decisions and what precautions they'll take against the novel coronavirus.
"Nothing is without risk," said William Petri, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "But you can weigh the risks. . . . It's going to be a series of judgment calls people will make every day."
Q: How are you thinking about when and where you'll venture out?
A: All three said they'll leave home more often only as COVID-19 cases in their communities decline and continue to do so.
Amanda Castel, an epidemiology professor at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, said she plans to wait until her community meets established criteria, including a 14-day drop in the percentage of people testing positive.
Even then, Castel said, "I'll think about it as, 'Is it nice to go, or do I need to go?'"
Boris Lushniak, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said he will take a "tempered" approach. While he wants to support the local economy, he said, "I'll still be very wary of my environment."
In general, they'll consider three key points:
- Whether they'd be indoors or outdoors (Outdoors is safer.)
- Their proximity to employees and customers (Can they stay at least six feet from others?)
- How much time the outing would entail (Less is better.)
As Castel said, "I certainly wouldn't linger in places."
"I'll look at the duration and intensity of potential exposure," Petri said. "A very leisurely lunch at a restaurant with people at the table next to you is probably a riskier encounter than picking up an oil filter at the auto store."
Before entering any business, they said they will check:
- Are all staff members wearing masks?
- Are employees staying at least six feet from one another?
- Is there hand sanitizer or another way for workers and customers to clean or disinfect their hands easily?
- Are there few enough customers that all can remain at least six feet apart?
"If I can't maintain the six-foot rule," Lushniak said, "I'll stay away."
Q: What other precautions will you take?
A: In addition to social distancing and wearing masks, the experts said they will:
- Carry hand sanitizer and use it when entering and leaving businesses or public spaces.
- Focus on not touching their faces.
- Use the bathroom before leaving home so as to avoid public restrooms.
- Bring water to avoid having drinking fountains.
Q: Will you eat in a restaurant?
A: Castel said she probably won't go to a sit-down restaurant for a while because fellow diners can't wear masks while eating and drinking. Instead, she said, she'll continue dining "out" via delivery or curbside pickup.
Lushniak said he'll first check whether servers are wearing masks, how many people are inside and how far apart tables are spaced: "It's really going to be about how crowds are controlled."
If a restaurant meets those requirements, he said, he'll wear a mask as much as possible to protect others and bring his own pen to sign the credit card bill.