The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is over half-a-year old and while daily case numbers have come down from their mid-summer peak, they still remain at high levels across the country.
Meanwhile, the transition to flu season is underway, meaning it’s more important than ever to stay on top of guidelines, best practices and your health to prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza.
While there are still so many unknowns about the coronavirus and information is constantly evolving, a set of guidelines and coronavirus tips have long since solidified that will help protect you and your family as much as possible in the fight to stay COVID-free.
General coronavirus tips for public places
Throughout the pandemic, several practices have been established as a cornerstone of coronavirus protection. And while many of us have made these part of our routine, it’s still important to remind ourselves — and others — of their importance.
Wearing a mask is vital to protecting yourself and those around you from spreading the virus. Because so many coronavirus cases can be asymptomatic, wearing a mask protects others in close proximity in case you’re exhaling virus-laden droplets into the air around you.
A mask should also help with another precaution: don’t touch your face. While it’s not the primary way the virus is spread, it’s still possible to pick up the virus off a surface and infect yourself by touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
Also be sure to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap, especially after returning to your home from being out in public. It’s important, too, to lather your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds to get them fully clean. A good practice is to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer handy, especially if you’re out and about without immediate access to a bathroom.
Finally, be sure to socially distance yourself from others, staying at least 6 feet away. Because of the distance that exhaled droplets can travel, you want to make sure you’re not too close to someone, even if they don’t show any symptoms. And, yes, that includes even when you’re wearing a mask.
Coronavirus tips for going to restaurants
Going out to eat is a luxury we had to do without in the early days of the pandemic with restaurants largely reduced to offering take-out options only. In recent months, though, more eateries have reopened for dining-in.
But a recent CDC study found that “Adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results.”
Those results applied to people eating at any place in the restaurant, both inside and outside. The reason, according to the report, is because proper social distancing is often difficult in a restaurant setting and that masks are removed to eat and drink, meaning the chances of spreading the virus via respiratory droplets are increased.
Still, many feel comfortable returning to dine-in options, so here are some rules to follow.
Eat on the patio
Many restaurants are offering additional outdoor spaces. Some municipalities have even allowed for expanded outdoor seating areas so restaurants can seat more customers outdoors. And for good reason: there’s less risk of transmission of the virus via recirculated droplets expelled by infected eaters.
Being in the open air of a patio cuts down on the risk of virus-infected air droplets recirculating as it can indoors, especially if tables are spaced out appropriately.
If you’ve got a restaurant in mind, call ahead to see what policies the restaurant has and if they offer patio dining. If not, see what their policy is for dining indoors and what reservation options, if any, are available. Also, ask about hours and consider going at off-peak times for visiting, meaning a less crowded restaurant and lower exposure risks.
Wear a mask
This is a tricky one because, as mentioned before, you have to take your mask off to actually eat and drink. Do your best to wear a mask at all points when you’re not eating and drinking and when you walk through crowded parts of the restaurant, such as when you’re waiting in the lobby or going to the restroom.
Get delivery or takeout
Delivery and takeout are still the best, safest options right now. Even eating on an outdoor patio doesn’t diminish the risk of exposure considering social distancing and mask issues that come with eating at a restaurant. In any situation where you have to remove your mask for prolonged periods of time, there’s going to inherently be a better chance of contracting the virus.
Coronavirus tips for travel
Whether for a vacation, work or another matter, traveling is still happening across the country via all the usual methods. Some means of transportation have higher risks than others and there are many other factors to consider when hitting the road.
But, says pulmonary and critical care physician Joseph Khabbaza, MD, there are still ways to plan for safe travel. “By following the guidelines and precautions as they’ve been laid out over the past several months, like social distancing and wearing masks, it’s possible to have safe travel experiences,” he says.
Consider where you’re coming from…
First, be sure to be aware of what the COVID-19 levels are for the community in which you live. Because of the risk of asymptomatic spread, you could carry the virus from a high-spread location to a low-spread location.
…And consider where you’re going
Just as you want to know the levels of spread where you live, you need to know what the COVID-19 levels are like where you’re going. If they’re particularly high or have seen a sharp rise recently, reconsider your visit. You’d be traveling into a hot zone that will put you at greater risk of catching the virus.
Check travel restrictions
Many states and local governments have also implemented travel restrictions that may require a quarantine period once you arrive so be sure to check your destination’s guidelines. Likewise, check the guidelines for your home locale because your destination may be on a travel restriction list requiring you to quarantine when you get back, which has additional logistical consequences.
The same goes for international travel since many countries have put heavy restrictions on accepting visitors from the United States due to our high caseload.
Car trips are best
If you’re up for it, hitting the road in your car is best, especially when limiting your passengers to those in your immediate circle, like family members. Just be sure to clean and disinfect your car thoroughly before, during and after your trip.
Designate a low-risk person to be the gas-pumper and food-runner for most stops; this helps limit the exposure of everyone in your traveling party. Just make sure anyone who leaves the car wears a mask and washes their hands before returning. And, for good measure, take the time to wipe down and disinfect the car again after longer stops.
While wearing a mask in the car isn’t as imperative if you’re traveling with members of your household, consider wearing them if you’re traveling with people from outside that circle or people who are at high-risk.
Staying safe on planes
Not every trip can be handled by car, of course. And with airlines offering deep discounts to encourage people to fly, it can be a much cheaper option. But there are still risks involved, particularly in terms of contact before and during the flight.
While there may be fewer people flying these days due to the virus, you’ll still find yourself in security and boarding lines as well as potentially crowded seating areas. Be sure to follow the standard protocol when in these situations — as much distance as possible, wear a mask and wash your hands after.
As for the flight itself, most airlines are disinfecting planes and taking distancing precautions. And airplanes use circulated and filtered air from outside to help keep air in the cabin scrubbed, lowering the chances of the virus spreading. Just be sure to wear a mask, even if the airline you’re flying doesn’t require it.
“Flying can be done safely,” says Dr. Khabbaza. It’s simply up to you to determine your risk factor. “Whether or not you choose to fly should be based on your own considerations of what risks you’re willing to tolerate, including COVID-19 rates both at your destination and where you’re traveling from.”
Coronavirus tips for grocery shopping
Grocery shopping is an essential part of our lives that can’t stop in the face of a pandemic. That means we have to take a new approach for shopping trips, be it for food or other supplies like toilet paper.
Designate a shopper
In the pre-pandemic days, the whole family might load up in the car for a trip to the store. Under the new coronavirus reality, though, it’s time to reconsider how you shop.
That means limiting the number of people from your household who make the trip. While it can be helpful to have multiple people on a grocery trip, by designating one person as the regular shopper, you limit the potential exposure. It’s also helpful in keeping high-risk people home and away from that danger.
Minimize your shopping trips
Scaling back the number of trips is also key to limiting potential exposure to the virus. While you might be used to running out to the store several times a week whenever the need for something arises, the fewer trips now the better. Meal-planning and creating a list beforehand can both help you make fewer trips and help make those trips shorter so you can get in and out quickly.
Also, ask yourself if what you want to get at the store is really necessary. More milk for the kids? Sure. A box of candy to satisfy a craving? You’re safer (and a bit healthier) skipping that one.
Choose a low-traffic time
Many grocery store chains are offering special hours for older and at-risk shoppers to keep exposure risks low. If you don’t fall into this category, though, picking a low-traffic time can be a bit trickier since so many people have the same idea.
“Everybody’s going shopping early or late not to avoid those peak times,” says infectious disease expert Frank Esper, MD. He adds, though, that the main objective isn’t so much about how many other shoppers there are but about keeping your distance. “The primary thing is to stay a safe distance from others, to avoid contact and try to give each other plenty of space in the aisles.”
Wear a mask and avoid touching too many surfaces
As with all the other activities, wearing a mask is important not just because it protects you but because it also protects those around you given the possibility of asymptomatic spread. It’ll also help keep you from touching your face.
Speaking of touching, while you may be used to picking up items off the shelf just to examine them, try to limit this to only products you intend to put in your shopping basket. While picking the virus up from a surface isn’t the primary means of transmission, it’s still possible.
This goes for the handle on your cart, too. While many stores are working hard to keep them clean and sanitized, be sure to wipe the cart handle both before and after you use it for shopping, if possible. And keep a travel bottle of hand sanitizer on hand so you can give your hands a quick clean throughout your trip and as soon as you leave the store.
Get delivery or curbside pickup
The safest option for grocery collection is, still, using a delivery service or a curbside pickup option. There are logistical hurdles with this method, of course, like picking a substitute if the store doesn’t carry the product you’re looking for or even changing your mind about what you want or need mid-trip.
Still, many delivery and pickup options allow for substitution selection and this method is the safest way, greatly limiting your exposure to anyone who may be carrying the virus.
Coronavirus tips for going to the gym
A source of healthy activity and exercise for many, gyms have an added hurdle when it comes to safe reopening. Just by the nature of these spaces — dozens of exercisers sweating profusely and huffing and puffing in an indoor setting for hours at a time — there’s an elevated risk of transmission.
As sports medicine specialist Caitlin Lewis, MD, notes, it can be hard to maintain social distancing measures at a gym. “People are crowded together more in a gym and it’s a relatively confined space,” she says. “You’re at risk of being in closer contact with people coughing, sneezing and breathing heavily.”
Think of those rows of treadmills and elliptical machines. On a busy day, those parts of the gym can create a stew of respiratory and sweat droplets, not exactly the safest environment. Many gyms have responded by imposing social distancing rules which include limiting the number of these machines available but there are still inherent risks in heading in for a workout.
Here’s what you can do to keep yourself safe during your workouts.
Check your gym’s guidelines
Every gym is different when it comes to coronavirus guidelines. Before you head out, be sure you know what new standards your gym has set. Whether it’s social distancing rules, closing down locker rooms and other portions or special hours, know the new rules so you can more easily navigate your workout.
Wear a mask and stay distant
All the social distance measures you’re following everywhere else should especially be followed at the gym. Stay at least six feet from others even if the gym’s guidelines already implement these practices. Make sure you steer clear of everyone as you maneuver your way through the various weights, machines and the locker room.
Bring your own water and towel
Bringing your own water isn’t just about ensuring your safety as it helps avoid shared water fountains where germs can easily spread, it’s also practical. Besides, many gyms (and other public spaces) have shut down water fountains due to the pandemic.
If you use a towel to wipe away sweat during heavy-duty workouts, be sure to bring your own from home. Just be careful where you use it; you don’t want to wipe your face with it after you’ve wiped away another exerciser’s sweat.
Wipe down EVERYTHING
Most gyms already offer wipes or paper towels and spray for cleaning equipment after use, which is a safer option than that aforementioned towel of yours. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your gym’s offerings and wipe down shared equipment both before and after use for the safest workout.
Be flexible with your workout plan
Because of restrictions many gyms have in place — from different hours to a limited number of machines — you’ll need to be flexible when heading in for a workout. It may also be hard to main proper social distancing guidelines while doing a particular workout so you might have to switch up exercises. So while you may have a plan going in, it’s a good idea to have a Plan B and Plan C, too.
Work out at home
While you may be craving getting in your reps at your trusty gym, the fact is that, right now, the safest place for any workout is your home. While you might not have the same equipment that your gym does, there are still plenty of options for making your abode the center of your exercise routine.
And if you need a change of scenery, there are plenty of outdoor activities — hiking, running, cycling — that are safe and are easily doable within social distancing guidelines. Even if it’s not at a gym, Dr. Lewis says, “Movement of any kind, even just a short walk with family, is good for both our mental and physical health.”
Coronavirus tips for personal care appointments
The pandemic has also thrown a curveball in terms of keeping up physical appearances and other points of body care. Some are a bit more difficult to take care of than others but they’re all worth considering.
Haircuts and salon visits
Given what we’ve learned about the virus since the start of the pandemic, getting a haircut or hair treatment at your salon is probably safe — as long as your salon or barbershop is taking the proper precautions. Because of the length of time these visits take, masks and social distancing are extremely important.
Call ahead and see what guidelines your preferred salon is following. And, if it feels like a safe environment, consider booking an appointment at an off-peak time, if possible, to limit potential exposure. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you and how comfortable you feel — and how good you are (or aren’t) at cutting your own hair.
Massages and spas
In the days of immense stress, getting a massage or taking a spa day can bring not just physical release but also emotional relief. The downside? The close, physical contact that’s required. Before you book a massage or spa day, call ahead to see what guidelines are being taken and what options are available.
Like spas and massages, getting a manicure or pedicure can offer an emotional uplift, something that makes you feel good about yourself and provides a bit of stress relief.
But, also like massages, the amount of contact can raise the risk of exposure. Call ahead and see what your nail salon’s guidelines are and, specifically, if they require masks and social distancing. As with massages, getting a manicure or pedicure will put you in close contact with someone so be sure to take the potential risks into account.
Going to your favorite cosmetics store to re-up on makeup or other supplies should generally be pretty safe, very similar to visiting a grocery store, as long as all precautions and guidelines (social distancing, mask-wearing) are followed. And, like grocery store visits, try to keep these shopping trips short and to a minimum. The more you linger and the more you go, the more exposure you’re risking.
One aspect, though, that’s inadvisable is sampling anything. While most locations and counters already had sanitizing precautions in place before the pandemic and many locations have discontinued sampling, you may come across a location that still does. It’s best to avoid this altogether given the risk such activity would place on exposure.
Coronavirus tips for going to back-to-school
One of the more complicated questions facing parents is how to manage their kids’ education during the pandemic. Some school districts are holding in-person classes while some are doing only remote-learning and yet others are taking a hybrid approach. And there’s the even more complicated nature of maneuvering life on campus for college students.
Here are coronavirus tips for helping the students in your household deal with learning during the pandemic.
The at-home mindset
If your kids are doing school from home, you don’t have to worry about exposure to the virus in the classroom. But you do have to worry about keeping kids motivated. Create boundaries, both physical and emotional, to get them in the mind-set to keep school life and home life separate. Make sure they have a desk or workspace fully dedicated to learning and where non-school things don’t intrude.
Boundaries for kids and home-schooling also includes creating a schedule for them and getting them to stick to it while also allowing for some flexibility. “When you allow your child to have input into their schedule, it helps motivate them and makes them feel like they have a say,” says pediatric psychologist Emily Mudd, PhD.
If you’re working from while your kids are doing at-home learning, it’s also important to set boundaries regarding interruptions of your workday. It’s an incredibly tough balance, especially with younger children, but it’s also important to help you preserve your sanity and keep them focused on school work.
And remember: cut yourself some slack. This is an incredibly difficult time and perfection can’t be expected.
Back in the habit
If your kid is returning to in-class instruction, it’s important to prepare both them and yourself for what’s to come. Stay informed of what your school’s guidelines are and make sure you explain the importance of these rules to your kids. Be patient if your kid has trouble taking it all in; we’re all having issues wrapping our minds around this pandemic. And by doing all the things your kid should be doing — wearing a mask, constantly washing your hands — you can help reinforce these routines for them.
It’s also important to check in with your kids to see how they’re feeling and do what you can to talk through their feelings with them. We’ve all adjusted to changing conditions in different ways and children are no different. This includes keeping an eye out for red flags like complaints of stomachaches and headaches, changes in attitude and changes in sleeping or eating habits. These are all potential indications of added stress for a child.
Take care of your child’s mental health
Besides those aforementioned stress-related symptoms, be sure to keep an eye out for school-related anxiety and school refusal behavior. These can be things like refusing to go to school, calling home claiming to be sick or other changes in behavior. School can certainly be a stressful, anxious situation for kids during the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
Consider talking to your kids about mindfulness. Whether it’s sitting and watching the clouds roll by or relaxing and listening to peaceful music, it can create a space for your kid to get a little mental break from all of the stress. Just be sure to practice what you preach, says child psychologist Ethan Benore, PhD: “By seeing you do the same thing, that sends a positive message to your kid that these are healthy habits for them to engage in, too.”
If necessary, reach out to your kid’s healthcare provider to see if treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy or medication, is necessary. And be proactive; don’t minimize what your kid is experiencing. Talk to them about it and remove the stigma from it. Let them know it’s okay to feel this way and encourage them to talk about it.
Remind your kids of the new normal
There’s no getting around the fact that our current reality is a very different world than before and is likely to be that way for some time. That makes it extremely important to help get your kids used to new routines.
If your kid is returning to in-school classes, be sure to check with the school for their set of safety guidelines. Even if they don’t require masks, it’s still best for your kid to wear one. And remind them to wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when they aren’t able to get to a washroom.
Maintain a healthy diet
No matter which method of learning your kids are doing, their diet is still an important staple of their health. Be sure to get vitamins and minerals (like zinc and Vitamin C) into their diet to help boost their immune system. For kids going back to physical school buildings, the general principles still apply for packing healthy lunches: fruits and veggies are key, go light on sugar.
If they’re learning at home, it can be a bit trickier. Being at home more means they’re probably going to be tempted to snack a bit more, too. Simple steps like setting a meal plan and a meal schedule can make managing these things much easier.
Maintain vaccination schedules
While so much attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, other illnesses still lurk in the halls of your kid’s school. It’s extremely important that your kids, especially younger ones, maintain their regular vaccination schedule to protect them from infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough. Healthcare providers are working hard to make their offices a safe place for patients to visit.
Stay safe on campus
It’s not just K-12 students who face all of these new challenges; college students, too, are going back to class with the pandemic hanging over their head. While some universities have elected for remote-learning or a hybrid approach, others are still letting students live in dorms and attend classes in person.
Make sure your college student knows their school’s guidelines and restrictions, especially when it comes to visitors. And make sure they know to follow the new routine: social distance, wear a mask and, yes, wash your hands. Even if they have to sit six feet away with masks on, they can still get in some quality time with friends hanging out on the quad.
Clean the dorm room
A clean dorm room is not exactly something you might equate with the typical college student, but these aren’t typical times. Students living on campus should follow the same cleaning procedures they would at home: keep their dorm rooms clean and wiped down, especially when returning from being out, and limit the people they allow inside.
Communication with roommates is especially important, keeping everyone on the same page as to their risk exposures and maintaining a safe, virus-free lifestyle while living in such close quarters.
Embrace video chats
One hallmark of college is the study group. While crowding a dozen students around a table for an all-night cramming session was once the norm, it’s not the safest approach these days. But technology helps, giving students different options for gathering online to keep these study sessions going, albeit virtually.
And, if your college offers it, consider attending class virtually, especially if you or your roommate aren’t feeling well.
Coronavirus tips for going to healthcare appointments
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, it’s still important to keep up with your healthcare appointments, especially if you have a condition that requires regular maintenance check-ups. For many providers, virtual visits are now widely available and a great option if you don’t feel comfortable going into your healthcare provider’s office.
If an in-person visit is necessary, be sure to call ahead or check with your provider’s website to see what guidelines and restrictions are still in place. While the usual protections should always be followed — stay socially distanced, wear a mask — each office might have different policies on whether or not additional visitors are allowed to accompany patients or other precautions.
Your healthcare provider can also advise you on what to do if you have a surgery or other procedure scheduled.
Coronavirus tips for going to dental appointments
Given the intimate nature of what dental appointments entail, it’s understandable that some patients are nervous about visiting the dentist. But, as with your doctor’s office, precautions are being taken to make sure your experience is as comfortable and as safe as possible.
Be sure to check with your dentist’s office before your appointment to see what guidelines are in place which can allow you to make a judgment call as to whether or not you want to go through with the appointment or reschedule for a few months down the road. Just remember: your dental health is as important as other aspects of your health so you’ll eventually need to get in to see your dentist.