What to do while going green
We are going green! No, I am not talking about the environment or the ecology, nor about eating more green vegetables (although these are all healthy changes!). I am talking about the recent transition from red to yellow to green phases in the Commonwealth after the lock-downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lifting of strict social restrictions has come as a great relief to many. In fact, Pennsylvania is one of the few states to have achieved a sustained reduction in new cases. The pandemic is still raging across the world and the U.S. and is thus far from over. So, let us be smart and avoid a resurgence of community transmission.
There are plenty of ways to make the most of our “green” summer while keeping each other safe and healthy. Here, I offer a range of “green” options and suggestions to make your choices “safer” in times of COVID-19.
First, the green phase does not signal a return to a complete relaxing of the social distancing and hygiene rules or, in other words, to life as we knew it before the epidemic.
The partial restrictions lifting has led to confusion over how to do “green.”
In the green phase, people need to make decisions on a continuous scale (least safe to safer to safest) as opposed to the strict safe vs not safe rules of the red phase.
The fact is that no social interactions or activities are ever 100 percent free of risk in terms of COVID-19. But some options are definitely “safer” than others.
So, start by asking yourself questions such as: Am I at risk? Is anyone in my household considered a high-risk?
You might not know who is at risk. Consider how your choices affect yours and your community’s transmission risk.
The now familiar recommendations of regular and thorough hand washing; covering you cough and sneezes with your elbow; avoiding close contact; maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from people you don’t live with; and most importantly staying home when sick or experiencing any symptoms compatible with COVID-19 or if you have been in contact with a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days are here to stay and should be followed at all times.
KEEP WEARING YOUR MASK
There is increasing evidence that masks not only protect others but also the wearer. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the PA Department of Health (PA DOH) guidelines, masks should always be worn when in public, in particular when the physical distancing of 6 feet is difficult.
If you go out for a walk on your own or with people you live with and don’t expect to run into anyone, you don’t need to wear a mask. However, it is always a good idea to carry one with you in case you meet someone, need to pop into a shop or any other closed space or unexpectedly run into a crowd.
If you are driving alone or with people from your household, you don’t need to wear a mask in the car either.
Lastly, masks do not work perfectly, so they do not replace physical distancing and hand hygiene. Also, masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Now is our chance to go out and reconnect with nature. The risk of coronavirus transmission is lowest outdoors and spending time in the nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve both mental and physical health.
Lucky for us, national parks and trails are re-opening across the state. Choose a little-known trail or park that allows you to social distance and enjoy a sense of normalcy. Prefer parks close to your home and limit traveling as driving long distances contributes to the spread of COVID-19. Try to avoid crowds. This might make some open areas, trails, and paths better to use than others.
You can also choose to go at off times and pick less popular sites. Don’t forget to carry hand sanitizer and remember to bring your own water as water fountains might remain closed.
Think of outdoor activities that can be done individually or at a safe physical distance, such as biking, skating and roller-skating. For example, while you want to try to avoid close contacts sports as well as those where all players touch the same object, Frisbee would probably be safer than football.
WHAT ABOUT PLAYGROUNDS
Children and their parents everywhere have sorely missed daily outings to the playgrounds.
Playgrounds and other exercise installations are hard to keep clean and disinfected. If you choose to use the playgrounds, use them at your own risk and consider the age and maturity of your child. Little hands tend to touch contaminated surfaces and objects and then touch their mouth, nose.
Teaching social distancing and hand hygiene can be challenging for younger ones. Trying to maintain safe physical distance can be difficult and counter-intuitive when the playground is often the main place for children and toddlers to socialize.
Try your best to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with and encourage your children to do the same. Children older than 2 years old can safely wear a mask.
Enforce hygiene rules including washing hands before and after use of play structures. Most children can safely use hand sanitizer under parental supervision.
Again, if your local go-to playground is crowded, consider visiting a different one or come back at another time to reduce exposure and potential spread of the coronavirus.
THE ‘DOUBLE BUBBLE’ OR ‘QUARANTINE POD’
If you want to increase your family’s social circle while keeping your risk of getting COVID-19 as low as possible, try the “double bubble” or “quarantine pod” strategy.
Pick a family that you know and trust. If both families follow agreed social distancing and hygiene rules, you can safely have unlimited close contacts, play-dates, and reunions with the other family.
However, try to limit the size of your bubble. The larger the bubble (or the more people in your pod), the more difficult it becomes to ensure everyone adheres to the rules.
The double bubble only works if everyone in the bubble follow the rules.
TAKE A DIP
Swimming and other water-related activities are excellent ways to get physically active while taking advantage of the sunny hot weather.
COVID-19 is not found in water (whether fresh, salt or chlorinated water), and cannot be spread by water. So, swimming in your own private pool is the safest option.
The next best option would be swimming in lakes and beaches far from crowds. For those of us who are not so lucky as to have our own pool or easy access to a lake or beach, public pools and water parks in Pennsylvania are slowly re-opening under strict guidelines that may vary depending on the state and local authorities.
You will likely be asked to keep a physical distance of 6 feet from other swimmers and visitors at all times. Remember COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through close contact. Whether you are floating in the water or relaxing on the ground, crowds are never safe!
You may also be required to wear a mask when not in the water. Also, try to avoid using locker rooms. As a closed space with people in close contact and high touch surfaces, this is a high-risk situation.
WHAT ABOUT PUBLIC
Doorknobs, tap handles and flush buttons are all high touch surfaces.
However, restrooms are harder to avoid than locker rooms. Keep in mind that the virus is not found in bodily fluid and that while some studies found traces of virus in feces, this has never been shown to be a source of infection in real life.
As a precaution, close the lid before flushing. Always thoroughly wash your hands after using the bathrooms. Most public restrooms are regularly cleaned and disinfected.
As a rule, outdoor gatherings will likely be the safest option to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated (for example, open a window). Why not go out for a picnic?
If you prefer to host a gathering at your home or at a friend’s home, then a dinner outside on the deck will be safest option.
While COVID-19 is not food-borne and cannot be transmitted through food, you can further minimize the risks by asking everyone to bring their own cutlery and dishes or use disposable ones. You could also consider asking them to bring their own food and drinks.
Of course, always wash your hands before cooking, serving, and eating food and keep the number of people handling food to a minimum.
Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible. Think about how you could use arranged seating to encourage physical distancing.
When greeting friends, don’t shake hands and try elbow bumps instead! If you must, prefer hugs to hand contact. Even better, wave and greet them verbally!
Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after attending social gatherings.
Take out is safe, so delivery, curb side pick-up and take out are safer. You can pay online or by phone when you order.
Most restaurants are now used to do contactless payment, delivery and take out. If you decide to dine-in, ensure they are following the PA Department of Health guidance on masks, reduced capacity, spaced seating, and all necessary protection measures to protect their staff and patrons.
Whenever possible, sit outside at tables spaced at least 6 feet apart from other people. Prefer establishments that are not self-serve to limit the use of shared serving utensils, handles, buttons, or touchscreens.
Maria Luisa Tejda De Rivero Sawers MD MScPH is a Food, Families and Health educater with Penn State Extension. She can be reached by by calling 814-871-9131 or emailing email@example.com.