Posted on: May 27, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:03 pm

People all across North America have now been living under social isolation and stay-home rules for more than two months. While the weather was cooler, it was much easier to stay inside our homes, but as the warm weather sets in we are all anxious to get outside and enjoy some of our favorite summer activities. What are the coronavirus risk levels that we should be aware of?

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This begs the question: am I putting myself at risk by engaging in some of my favorite summertime activities?

To answer your questions, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have weighed in to give you some guidelines as to your coronavirus risk levels during your COVID-19 summer, so you can make informed decisions and enjoy the season while still staying safe and healthy.

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Managing Coronavirus Risk Levels

The most important thing to consider when you’re trying to decide whether or not you should do any activity is your own personal risk or that of the people you live with. Remember that your personal risk depends on your age and your pre-existing health status, as well as how many cases have been reported in your area, and whether or not you’ve been taking the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University, explains that transmission risk can be thought of with one simple phrase: “time, space, people, place”. This means that the more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the more your risk goes up. The more people you interact with also raises your risk, and indoor spaces are higher-risk than outdoor spaces [1].

Read: Don’t Just Avoid the Virus — Help Defeat It by Strengthening Your Immunity

Low to Moderate Risk Activities

A day at the beach or the pool is considered low risk, provided you can stay socially distanced. Janowski explains that the water is not a concern, because its large volume would dilute out the virus. You should still, however, maintain your distance while swimming.

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Kids, however, can be a concern in these situations.

“They make friends with everyone,” says Dr. Emily Landon, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist at University of Chicago Medicine. “If you want to be able to see grandma for Sunday lunch, because that’s what’s really important to your family, then you don’t want your kids running around with other people’s kids.” [1]

Using a public restroom is also a low to medium risk, according to the experts. This is because they have been designed to prevent disease transmission.

“There are all sorts of things that you can catch from other people’s poop, and you almost never do, because they’re set up with all hard surfaces that can be cleaned,” explains Landon [1].

Bathrooms do, however, have many high-touch surfaces, so minimize your risk by choosing washrooms that look clean and are well-stocked with paper towels, soap, and toilet paper. Avoid standing too close to anyone, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly when you are done, and use hand sanitizer if you need to touch any other surfaces after you’ve already washed them [1].

Letting your friend use your own bathroom is also considered low risk, since your bathroom can easily be cleaned, and most bathrooms are well-ventilated.  

“You can run the fan, leave the door open after (so air flows) and clean the bathroom later. And if you use the bathroom after they do, just wash your hands,” says Miller [1].

Going to the cottage with another family is considered safe, as long as both families are honest with how well they’ve been quarantining and limiting their exposure to others. To reduce risk even further, consider having everyone who is going on the trip limit their exposure even further for several days leading up to departure.

Outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking, biking, or running, or even outdoor dining, are considered low-risk, especially if these activities are done only with people from your household. If you are meeting up with others, it is important that you maintain the proper six feet of social distance, wear masks and wash your hands afterward [2].

Grocery shopping is low risk, again as long as you keep your distance and wear a mask. There is also a low risk of catching the virus by touching your groceries or other items like mail. That being said, you should still be cautious about touching things like doorknobs and elevator buttons, and always wash your hands thoroughly when you return home [2].

Read: Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant

Moderate to High-Risk Activities

A date or a gathering with a couple of friends can also be low-risk, depending on where you live. If you live in an area with lots of cases, the likelihood that one of your friends could be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus is higher than in other low-case communities [2].

Indoor restaurants are riskier than eating outside, because there is less airflow in an indoor space, and people are in closer proximity for an extended period of time. To lower your risk, wear your mask until your food has been delivered, only dine in restaurants that are using proper social distancing, and ask for disposable utensils [2].

Gyms and fitness centers are riskier, simply because of the nature of the activity, and again because they are enclosed spaces. If you really can’t stand not going to the gym, you should wear a mask the entire time you’re there, sanitize any equipment you touch before and after use, and practice strict social distancing [2].

Hair and nail salons have a medium risk of transmission, as long as masks are worn, and employees wash their hands frequently [2].

Read: What if we’ve all been primed?

High Risk Activities

Gatherings with family or friends who do not live in your household carry a high risk, especially because it is unlikely that everyone will be wearing a mask during this kind of activity [2]. If you do decide to have people over, you should consider who you’re inviting and what their health status is like, as well as whether or not they’ve been taking the necessary precautions.

Dr. Andrew Janowski, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Washington University in St. Louis, says that you can lower your risk even further by making it a “BYO Everything” event, so no one is sharing food or utensils.

Others warn to be cautious with drinking since alcohol tends to lower peoples’ inhibitions, which can cause them to get lazy with social distancing rules, and increases their need to go to the bathroom.

“Once you move into the house with others, the risk profile goes up,” says Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School [1].

Bars and nightclubs are extremely risky and, according to Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, they should not be allowed to open up. They are crowded, you can’t wear a mask while you’re drinking, and again, alcohol typically makes people worse at practicing social distancing [2].

Church services and other religious gatherings are considered unsafe because of the nature of many of the ceremonies that take place within them, such as communion, shaking hands with the priest, pastor, and other church-goers, and singing. Services typically take place indoors, and attendees are usually close together, making it easier for the virus to transmit.

If churches can enforce social distancing and abstain from any ritual that involves touching, eating, or drinking, they can be made safer [2].

Movie theatres and sporting events are high-risk because of the crowds, particularly at entry and exit points. Even if the flow of people could be managed at a social distance, the chance of transmission is still high, even while sitting inside the theatre or arena [2].

Stay Smart and Stay Safe

Whatever you decide to do, your safety, and therefore the safety of those around you, is up to you. Landon uses her own motto to guide her actions: 

“Always choose outdoors over indoor, always choose masking over not masking and always choose more space for fewer people over a smaller space.” [1]

The only way we are going to be able to defeat this virus and get through this is if we come together as a community and do what we need to do to protect the more vulnerable people in our society. As the weather gets warmer, it is more and more tempting to want to forget social distancing rules, but the lives of people we love are at risk, and it is all of our responsibility to protect them.

Keep Reading: Robot dogs are patrolling parks telling people to socially distance

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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