How to stay safe as you resume your favorite social activities.
We’re all eager to move past the COVID-19 pandemic and return to our favorite social activities, whether that means meeting friends at a restaurant, checking out the latest blockbuster or running a marathon.
But while the development of COVID vaccines promises to put a return to normalcy closer, there are still tricky days ahead. Times when we’ll all ask the question, “Is it safe to do this while COVID is still spreading?”
“As a general rule, if social activities involve being in a group setting for more than 15 minutes, it’ll be best to err on the side of caution until things truly return to normalcy,” says Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel, an infectious diseases specialist with Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. “But the answers aren’t always clear cut. If you have questions about social gatherings or other activities during COVID, here are some suggestions to stay safe, based on CDC guidelines.”
What can you do during the COVID pandemic?If you’re asking yourself “Is it safe to ______ during the COVID pandemic?”, you’re not alone. Here are hints for five popular social activities and life events:
1. Go on a first date
Having a safe first date is possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it might look different from a typical pre-COVID first meetup.
“It’s safest for potential couples to get to know each other from a distance, using technology, before meeting in person,” says Dr. Dhaubhadel. “And, while the conversation might be difficult, it’s smart to talk about COVID before meeting face-to-face. Has the person you plan to meet been careful about following CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID? Do they live alone, or do they live with others who might not follow protocols for masking, social distancing and handwashing?”
If you do decide to meet in person:
- Consider a mutual 2-week quarantine before meeting, if possible.
- Choose an outdoor activity that allows for social distancing, like an outdoor walk.
- Stay masked, even if that makes communication a little more difficult.
“Treat a first date like you would treat a meeting with anyone outside your personal ‘bubble,’” Dr. Dhaubhadel advises. “A little patience, a lot of open communication and an agreement to follow CDC guidelines can help you have a safe first meeting.”
2. Buy a house
It’s possible to shop for a new home during the COVID pandemic. But, as with dating, you’ll probably need to rely more on technology and less on in-person interactions. Especially since events like open houses may be prohibited, and some families might not want strangers visiting their homes, if they’re selling an occupied property.
“It’s safest to tour unoccupied structures,” Dr. Dhaubhadel notes. “But if you do walk through an occupied house or apartment, be sure to take precautions.”
Dr. Dhaubhadel urges potential buyers to:
- Wear a mask and make sure that anyone who accompanies you, like a real estate agent, is masked, too.
- Maintain at least a 6-foot distance from anyone outside your personal bubble, which might mean asking your agent to stay out of certain rooms or on a separate floor.
- Consider using technology to ask questions or even tour a property. Your agent can either stand outside and video chat while you walk around, or conduct the tour themselves, capturing live video while you stay home.
- Avoid touching anything in the property.
“Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands as soon as you leave the property,” Dr. Dhaubhadel adds. “Basically, you want to treat a house tour like you would a visit to a grocery store. Stay masked, keep your distance from others and wash up as soon as possible.”
3. Play sports
Getting exercise during the COVID pandemic is an important part of staying healthy. But if you — or your child — play team sports, you’ll want to take precautions until there’s a return to normalcy.
“Exertion and close contact are a bad combination during COVID,” Dr. Dhaubhadel explains. “And if you’re part of an organized team that travels to different communities and plays indoors, that can pose an added risk. Sticking close to home and away from people you don’t know is still the best strategy.”
If you do play team sports during COVID:
- Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose at all times, even on the field or court. Especially if you’ll come in close contact with teammates or opponents.
- Use your own equipment, including helmets, bats, gloves and water bottles.
- Wash or sanitize your hands before and after practices, games or when you use shared equipment.
- Avoid physical contact like high fives, fist bumps and hugs.
- Bench yourself — at home — if you don’t feel well or have been around others who are sick.
“A lot of kids and parents, especially, are eager to see normal sports seasons resume,” Dr. Dhaubhadel says, noting that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. “But safety has to be the top priority during a pandemic.”
4. Visit a library
Everyone’s looking for things to do at home during the COVID pandemic, like reading and watching movies. And many of us are also trying to save money. Borrowing books and materials from the local library might seem like a cost-effective answer, but is using a library safe?
“Coronaviruses can survive a few hours, or even a few days, on many surfaces,” Dr. Dhaubhadel says. “But visiting a library isn’t much different from shopping at any store during the pandemic. In fact, there are some options that can make borrowing materials from your local library a safer option, compared to buying items in a store.”
If you use a library, follow all the usual CDC guidelines for masking, social distancing and handwashing. You can also:
- Reserve materials online and ask if advance checkout is a possibility.
- Choose digital materials over print when available.
- Clean and disinfect materials like CDs, audio books in plastic cases or borrowed equipment like laptops.
- Make sure any computer stations you use while at the library are cleaned before you touch the keyboard or mouse.
5. Go swimming in a public pool
Whether you’d like to do a few laps at the local gym or look forward to swimming outdoors when the weather warms up, there’s good news for swimmers.
“Scientists don’t yet know if COVID-19 can be spread to humans through recreational use of water,” Dr. Dhaubhadel says. “And, while there’s no conclusive study of chlorine’s effect on the virus yet, chlorine does inactivate similar viruses, including SARS-CoV. The important thing is to maintain social distancing while in the water, where you and others probably won’t be masked.”
If you do plan to swim in a public pool during COVID, wearing a mask when not in the water is essential. And if you plan to use a locker room — usually a windowless, small space — get in and out quickly.
“You should also assess the situation before diving in,” Dr. Dhaubhadel says. “Is the pool crowded with people who are splashing around? Or are swimmers in their own lanes, doing laps? If it’s the former, consider returning at a different time. And if you do swim, be sure to bring an extra mask in case one gets wet.”
For more information about staying safe during COVID-19, as well as the latest information about vaccines, visit Geisinger’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
“Along with following CDC guidelines for masking, maintaining social distance, washing your hands — and getting the vaccine when possible — staying informed can help keep you and your loved ones safe,” says Dr. Dhaubhadel.