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Living through COVID-19: How to decide what's safe

Posted June 23, 2020 9:00 p.m. EDT

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on UNC Health's Health Talk blog.

Being in full lockdown mode—sheltering at home, with most businesses closed—might have been frustrating, but at least the ground rules were clear. You went somewhere or did something only if you absolutely had to.

Now, as public life reopens and summer activities beckon, it’s important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over. We don’t yet have an effective treatment or a vaccine, but everyone is eager to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

So what’s OK to do, and what’s not?

There are no black-and-white answers, the experts say. You have to examine what matters to you.

“I have had many friends and family members ask me, can I do this, or should I do this?” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention. “As we begin to reintroduce interactions back into our lives, I think it’s important for everyone to consider what’s most important to them, because we can’t go back to doing all things at once.”

For some people, that might be time with family. For others, it might be regular trips to the gym or the beach. The key is to decide what you want to do, and then assess how (and whether) you can do it safely.

Here are some important things to consider, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says:

How many people are involved in this activity?

  • Generally, smaller gatherings are safer than larger ones.

How much time will you spend in close proximity?

  • The longer the event, the higher the risk that the virus can be transmitted.

Where will you be?

  • Outdoor activities are preferable to indoor ones because fresh air dilutes the virus.
  • If you are inside, large spaces are better than cramped ones.

Who will be there?

  • It’s important to know whether people you interact with have been taking precautions, such as physical distancing, and if they’re high-risk, such as people older than 65 or those who are immunocompromised. That doesn’t mean you can’t see high-risk loved ones, but it does mean you’ll want to be extra conscientious.

What can you do to minimize your risk?

  • Making sure you are healthy before embarking on new activities or interactions, frequent hand-washing, wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from people outside your household can all make it less likely that you’ll catch the virus.

Stay tuned for more from UNC Health's Is It Safe series on Go Ask Mom.