Five risks to consider before venturing out during the pandemic

Five risks to consider before venturing out during the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is still with us but slowly the lives of many people are beginning to move to a new post-lockdown normal. As we begin to venture out, there is a list of five risks to consider in your decision-making process. Is an activity or visit to a public area worth the risk of potential exposure to the coronavirus?

The five risks, according to scientists are proximity to people; the likelihood others will practice safe behavior; indoors or out; exposure time, and personal health risks. The list comes from a survey of four public health experts by MLive in Michigan. I know, I read that and thought, a survey of only four people? Nonetheless, the list makes sense and can serve as a common sense guide for those of us who are feeling completely let down by public health experts and the medical community. While they all bounce from recommendation to recommendation from day to day, seemingly whichever way the wind blows, these constants remain when considering the risk of exposure to the virus.

Instead of public officials dictating where we can and cannot go now, each of us has to make personal decisions about our own safety. We all know the basics – wear a mask, social distance in public places, and handwashing. The list that ranks different activities is helpful in going forward. Should you worry about a trip to the grocery store? How about getting a drink with a friend in your neighborhood bar?

Outdoor activities are safest, generally speaking. Not the mass protests and riots that we’ve witnessed in recent days, but activities like a tennis game or a walk in the park. Walking by someone on a trail is less a risk than going to watch a game indoors. The point is, we aren’t going to stay home forever, our lives will continue on and for now, it is best to go to places where compliance with safety precautions will be practiced.

Some environments are tougher than others, when it comes to enforcing precautions. So places where compliance is most likely are a lower risk than places where people don’t have to follow the guidelines.

People must also consider their own personal risk level, such as if they have health risks that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

“Until we have a vaccine, we are going to have to move forward with risk reduction strategies,” Sims said. “Because you can’t keep the economy on hold forever, you can’t keep peoples’ lives on hold forever.”

The places/activities involving groups of people are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10. The highest-ranking of risk, a 10, doesn’t appear on the list, though. Perhaps the caveat that if everyone is taking precautions, the risk is greatly reduced comes into consideration. So, a large concert or a bar could be ranked a 10 but move down to a 9 on the risk scale if some precautions are being made. A game of tennis outdoors with one other person who is not infected is ranked as the safest of activities, a 1.

“After a couple of drinks, they’re starting to feel a little more invincible,” Dr. Nasir Husain said. “And that’s when the trouble starts.”

The tennis court is one of the easiest places to ace the COVID-avoidance game — as long as your partner doesn’t have the disease. The activity is one of two ranked a reassuring 1 by the doctors.

Navigating restaurants isn’t as simple as hitting the tennis court. Takeout, patio seating and dining in all bear risks. The latter is the most dangerous — a 6.

Here are more examples of the guidance put forth on risk assessment: sports stadiums, gyms, amusement parks, churches, and buffets are an 8. Public pools are a 7. Movie theaters, hair salons, and barbershops are a 6. Planes, beaches, bowling alleys, and backyard BBQs are a 5. Busy city sidewalks and dentist offices are a 4. Libraries/museums, grocery stores, hotels, and golf courses are a 3. Pumping gas, walking/running and biking a 2. And, the safest of activities are, according to this list, restaurant takeout, and tennis which are ranked at 1.

Why is a backyard barbeque ranked higher than a busy city sidewalk, though? Both are outdoors and I would assume that social distancing would be much more manageable in someone’s backyard than on a public sidewalk in a large city. Not all of the list makes sense to me. One of the doctors wanted to give bars a 10 ranking which makes more sense to me, too. People can’t wear a mask when drinking, they mingle with other patrons, and bars are more tightly packed in by patrons than restaurants.

The risk of swimming in a public pool (a 7) is not completely clear, either. “We don’t have good data to show how the virus would behave in a pool,” Husain said. “Pool water does have chlorine in it, but I don’t think it’s high enough to be very effective in completely reducing risk to zero.” Outdoor playgrounds for children are ranked at 6 because kids don’t social distance and they cough and sneeze on surfaces. It just seems to me that a pool with chlorine would be less risky than kids playing on a playground, not more.

While experts argue over whether or not some states are experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, which I don’t think they are, the basics on disinfecting surfaces and our hands hold.

Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.

As noted above, I have some questions about some of the rankings but generally speaking, it’s a pretty good list to go by. We just have to get used to weighing the pros and cons of getting out and about, at least until the virus outbreak subsides or a vaccine is on the market.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023