As many states are now reopening, it’s normal to feel like going out. After months of quarantine and stay-at-home orders, people are feeling restless, and no one blames them for it. Even though most states have lifted outdoor restrictions, coronavirus cases are still spiking, so it is still unclear where you can go without putting your health, as well as others, at risk.
“The highest risk places for COVID-19 transmission are indoors and those that are crowded,” says Sarah P. Cate, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Low-risk places are outside where people are also masked and have space to socially distance,” she explains.
According to Dr. Cate, summer might be a lot of challenges, particularly in places like Florida, which is still dealing with a large number of coronavirus cases every day.
“A beach with a face mask on and plenty of room between visitors is relatively safe, as is a haircut outdoors with both people masked,” she says. Dr. Cate adds, “It requires a bit of flexibility for all involved. And if you have multiple medical problems, it may be safer to avoid activities unless you are really isolated.”
“For some people, I would recommend complete isolation based on their individual risk profile. For others, it may be okay to venture to these locations,” explained Neha Vyas, MD, a family medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
In addition, keeping your distance six-feet apart from other people it’s still essential in staying safe. As data from a May 2020 study published in the journal Health Affairs showed, there is a 35% higher risk of infection in public places where social distancing measures aren’t implemented.
It’s definitely not easy leaving in a world where you can’t do or go wherever you want, and of course, we’re going to make mistakes, but it is very important to prioritize your health and do everything in your power to stay safe and keep others safe as well. That’s why it’s important to develop healthy and mindful habits.
Read on and find out which are the public places that doctors will stay away from during the COVID-19 pandemic!
I know these are hard times for those who prefer drinking their coffee at a cozy café or have dinner at a restaurant every night. But small, crowded places are the first thing you should avoid if you care about your health.
“There’s not that much data, but just from a safety perspective, I think I would be very careful about going places where the tables are not spread out at a very safe distance,” says Dr. Vyas. “And I get it, you can’t wear masks while you’re eating, but I would want to see that the servers, waiters, and waitresses are wearing masks.”
Dr. Cate urges people to stay away from indoor bars this summer, as they can put you at a higher risk of getting infected. A lot of people in a small indoor bar is definitely not ideal for the times we’re living in.
“Indoor bars are actually pretty high risk because there are so many touch surfaces, like the door handles, countertops, and tables,” she says. “And I think it’s hard, especially in a crowded setting, for those surfaces to be de-sanitized between every customer. Plus, when people are drinking, they’re less cautious.”
However, if you still wanna live your life and go out, as we all do, choose outdoor bars, like on a patio or a deck, as they’re not as problematic considering they’re outside, and “droplet particles have so much more air to spread out in,” says Dr. Cate.
“But again, you want to make sure that you are not touching multiple surfaces and that you can keep away from other people as much as possible. If you’re having some type of social event, have it outside rather than inside at a bar and do so with a smaller group of people, like up to ten.”
Dr. Vyas recommends everyone to avoid public restrooms as much as possible, considering how many germs are lurking there already, but if that’s not possible and you really need to use the bathroom, make sure to watch closely for cleanliness.
“If I’m going somewhere and I absolutely have to use a public restroom, I’ll pay very close attention to when it was cleaned,” she says. “And then if I’ve got to go, I’ll make sure that when I go in that I wash my hands and make sure that there are adequate paper towels. As I come out, I wash my hands again. I’m really careful now in certain public places. I try to avoid public restrooms, but if I have to, I take extra precautions.”
Money is among the dirtiest items we touch on a daily basis. Especially now, it would be better to avoid going to the bank as much as possible, but I guess that wouldn’t be such a big problem, as every problem one might have can be solved electronically.
Money are germs carriers and spreaders, facts demonstrated in an April 2017 study in PLOS, that’s why doctors recommend using credit and debit cards for payments, rather than cash, to reduce the risk of transmission.
“I try to limit money, like cash,” says Dr. Vyas. “I think it’s better to use a credit card and clean it rather than cash, since, as we all know, money is very dirty. If you’re dealing with a lot of cash you have to be extra careful.”
Going to church in a coronavirus pandemic context isn’t quite ideal, according to Dr. Cate. However, if the church you’re going to can create safe conditions for its people without putting them at risk for infection, it’s ok to go.
“A lot of places are really adapting, like the synagogue that I go to is having services outside and there’s a limited number of people that can attend,” she says. “They’re also sending out a health questionnaire beforehand and everyone has to wear a mask.”
It’s very important that “all parts of the service which require communal activities—shaking hands, hugging, passing trays and cups, sharing books and texts—would need to be discontinued,” says Dr. Vyas.
Gyms are pretty germy places considering that everyone is sweating like crazy while working out. Moreover, a 2019 study in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach found that 25 percent of gym surfaces “tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria and flu pathogens.”
“I tell my older patients to go out and exercise early in the morning with a mask, as there are fewer people out and about,” she says.
Just like gyms, malls can be pretty germy places, where many surfaces can be easily contaminated. Especially the surfaces that get touched the most, such as escalator railing, racks, elevator buttons and almost every surface in the fitting room. Those surfaces are impossible to be kept clean and disinfected at all times, considering how crowded they are.
“I would still be nervous about going into an indoor mall,” says Dr. Cate, who recommends sticking to curbside pickup for now. “I would stick with that for as long as possible or online shopping. I think it’s important for us to look at this as a long-term lifestyle adjustment until there’s a vaccine because it’s hard to control how often things are going to get cleaned or if they’re going to get cleaned at all.”
Dr. Cate recommends staying away from public pools these days, even though there isn’t any evidence to suggest that this virus can be transmitted through water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, it can still be risky that’s why it is better to not go.
“Water is a definitely lower risk of transmission for COVID-19 and the chlorine alleviates a lot of the viral load, but if you’re in a crowded pool where everyone’s standing in the shallow end and breathing on each other, that’s not ideal,” says Dr. Cate.
“I think that’s one of the reasons that the pools in New York City are not going to be open this summer is because there was no way to really socially distance everyone from each other.”
If you still want to go just to lay in the sun near the pool, Dr. Vyas suggests that surfaces that people lounge on, like the beach chairs must be cleaned and disinfected frequently, “ideally before and after each person uses them,” she says.
If implementing these safety measures is not possible, then you shouldn’t go, says Dr. Cate and Dr. Vya. However, you can still enjoy a nice dip in the water, as Dr. Cate suggests that beaches are generally safer than pools, because it’s easier to maintain social distancing measures.
“There’s so much more space and so much more water—it’s reasonably safe to do,” she says.
Most people dream of a relaxing spa session right now, but Dr. Cate suggests that you should think twice before booking these services. However, it all depends on how long you’re planning on staying there and what services you choose.
“Quick services, like a haircut or a manicure, are OK because they require a limited amount of time and as long as both parties are wearing masks, I think it’s fine,” she says.
If you plan on spending a whole day at the spa, better skip it. Also, avoid saunas and steam rooms for the moment.
“The temperature is higher and can potentially create an environment much akin to a petri dish,” Dr. Cate points out. “It’s also really hard to sterilize those areas.”
Movie theaters should be avoided because they’re inside, you’re getting in contact with other people, plus there are many infectious surfaces you touch at all times like the concession stand to the armrest.
“I think drive-ins are a great idea,” says Dr. Cate. “You can watch it in your car with the family unit that you’ve been quarantining with. I’d be hard-pressed to go back to a movie theater right now. It’s probably a good idea to avoid it until we have a vaccine.”
Many concerts and outdoor gatherings have been canceled this summer, however, if you’re planning on attending one that hasn’t been shut down, you should be extremely careful, doctors suggest.
“I’d stay away from concerts and places where people tend to congregate,” says Dr. Vyas. “If I see an orderly line, like at Trader Joe’s and everyone’s spaced six feet apart, I’ll be fine. But if there’s just a mass of people, I’ll try not to go there.”
Dr. Cate urges people to stay away from bowling alleys. If you think about all the surfaces that you come in contact with, about the shoes you rent you might realize that the risk of infection is very high, she adds.
“It’s so hard for these places to clean in between guests and to really decontaminate—even the air filtration systems could be harboring the COVID-19.”
One place you should go wherever you need to: The doctor’s office
“People are scared to come into doctor’s offices,” says Dr. Vyas. “We are doing everything we can to assure people that they’re safe. We got rid of a bunch of chairs in our office so that you’re not sitting near other people. We have signs everywhere to stay six feet apart. And yet I think there’s still some nervousness, and that’s quite worrisome because people are delaying needed medical care.”