The beaches are filling up again, and some restaurants have opened their doors to diners. You may feel the fresh air beckoning after months of isolation. But the coronavirus crisis is far from over. Here are ten tips to consider before leaving the house.
1. If you can stay put, stay put — especially if you’re sick or vulnerable
Isolation can be hard, and as old haunts start to reopen, it may be tempting to rush out right away. But Floridians shouldn’t take the state’s gradual reopening as license to act like the coronavirus is no longer a threat, said Dr. Craig Levoy, the regional medical director for Bayfront Health Medical Group.
“Just because we’re getting some green lights or even some yellow lights in terms of reopening, that’s not a pass to just go out and act like we were pre-Covid,” he said.
Continuing to stay home as much as possible is important for everyone, he said, but especially for people who are vulnerable because they’re older or have underlying conditions. And if you have any Covid-19 symptoms, please, stay home.
2. Keep doing what you’ve been doing
Some overarching advice for everything that follows: All those precautions that have been etched into your brain over the past couple of months still hold true. You should still keep your hands clean through thorough washing and sanitizer use. Still avoid groups larger than 10 people. Still keep a distance of at least six feet from people outside your household, as much as possible. Still wear masks when you go out in public.
“Getting outside is really important for mental health, too," Levoy said. "But while you’re doing that, you should be taking the precautions you’ve been taking all along.”
3. When dining, listen to your ‘Spidey Sense’
Some of those precautions should essentially be made for you if you decide to dine in a restaurant, as state restrictions limit indoor seating to 25 percent capacity and require outdoor tables to be six feet apart.
They don’t require restaurant employees to wear masks or gloves, though. Levoy said customers should look out for unmasked servers or other details that trigger alarm bells — a table that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned between uses, for example.
“If that Spidey Sense is going off, if you feel like something is not right, don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he said.
Your own personal protective equipment comes into play here, too. Masks are less effective if you repeatedly put them on and take them off or if you fidget with them, but you can’t eat or drink through a mask. Levoy suggested a technique that healthcare workers use in their jobs: If you have to remove and then reuse a mask, take it off while touching as little of it as possible and store it in a bag or Tupperware container until you need it again, so that it doesn’t touch a possibly contaminated surface.
4. In public restrooms, change the order of operations
Public restrooms could pose an interesting conundrum as the world reopens. As a reporter for the website Slate put it earlier this month, public restrooms “are at once an infectious chokepoint on the road to a functioning society and our only everyday infrastructure of good public health.” So where do you go when you need to go?
Even the experts are divided. At a Monday meeting of Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group, Dr. Doug Holt, the health officer of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough, said that even though he’d eat in an uncrowded restaurant, he wouldn’t use a public restroom.
“I would avoid,” he said. “My choice.”
But Levoy noted that public restrooms are essential to public health, and he didn’t want to discourage anyone from using one when the need strikes. Instead, he said, people should touch as little as possible. That might require a change in your order of bathroom operations: Grab a paper towel before anything else and use it, rather than your bare hands, when opening stall doors or turning faucet knobs.
5. Approach haircuts with caution
Hair salons, nail salons and barbershops in Florida were allowed to reopen Monday. Two months of staying inside has left many of us a little shaggy; add in the psychological toll of all that distance, and it may feel like one of the Geico cavemen is staring back at you from the bathroom mirror.
Experts, speaking to The Atlantic, have said that going to get a haircut is still risky business. If you do feel the need to access the cosmetic care salons and barbershops have to offer, follow some precautions. Both parties should wear masks, experts say, even though customers aren’t legally required to. You won’t be able to keep six feet away from the person cutting your hair, but keep that distance from everyone else in and around the shop or salon.
And when you call ahead to make your appointment, ask what precautions the salon is taking: How often are stylists cleaning their stations? Are there plexiglass barriers between chairs? What kind of protective equipment are employees getting? Use the answers to make an informed decision.
6. Bring a mask to the beach
Beaches have been open in the Tampa Bay area for more than a week now. So is it safe to go?
“In a general sense, yes — but with a few caveats," Dr. Marissa Levine of the University of South Florida said last week on the Tampa Bay Times’ Coronavirus in Florida podcast.
People who are at higher risk, because they’re older or have other health issues, should exercise extra caution. Masks might not be necessary all the time at the beach, Levine said, but beachgoers should still bring them, should a crowd encroach on their spot. Better yet, she said, get up and move if people are congregating. The virus spreads less easily outside than it does indoors, but keeping social distance is still key.
The good news: The water itself doesn’t pose any extra risk for coronavirus transmission.
7. Stay alert while you’re staying cool
On a similar note, some Tampa Bay-area public pools have started to reopen, with two in St. Petersburg opening last week and Clearwater pools opening with limited hours Monday. As at the beach, the water itself shouldn’t pose a risk — the chlorinated water of a swimming pool offers no habitat for the virus.
But the limited space of pools means that it could be hard to keep a safe distance from other swimmers. It’s a good idea to get outside and get some exercise, Levoy said, but you may want to bail if it starts to get crowded.
8. Settle on a favorite no-touch greeting
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again, to be honest with you,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.'s guiding figure through the coronavirus crisis, told the Wall Street Journal last month.
He’s not alone in the suggestion that we should throw one of the most common greetings overboard — not just for as long as the virus hangs around, but forever. An infectious disease expert for the Mayo Clinic told the BBC shortly after Fauci’s comments that reaching for a handshake is like “extending a bioweapon.”
A wave, bow or nod of the head is the way to go for now, at least, and you may want to get used to it. And Levoy and the experts who spoke to The Atlantic agree — hugging is still out of the question.
9. Practice safe dating
Parks, restaurants, coffee shops — plenty of the places you might go on a first date are back open now. But the calculus of dating has changed: How can you get close to someone when you’re not supposed to get close to anyone?
Socially distanced dates, with masks and six-foot bubbles, are doable, Levoy said. Even in those situations, though, he suggests having conversations around “safe dating,” taking a playbook out of the page of safe sex. Just as you might ask a new sex partner when they were last screened for sexually transmitted infections, it’s now a good idea to ask your date if they’ve had any Covid-19 symptoms in the past two weeks or if they’ve been around anyone who’s been sick.
Similar negotiations hold true for sex, Levoy mentioned. Some agencies, including New York City’s department of health, have issued guidelines on safe sex during coronavirus. As New York reminded its residents, there’s nothing safer than seeing nobody at all: “You are your safest sex partner.”
But people will still date and have sex, Levoy said. It’s up to them to decide when to let a partner into their bubble.
“I don’t think anyone’s advocating for no sexual intercourse until we have a vaccine," he said.
10. Don’t go far from home
It’s almost summer. Your cousin whose kids are almost to summer break, your friend who’s out of a job and has time on their hands, your parents who haven’t seen you in months — they’re asking when they can come visit you in the Sunshine State. And if you’ve been staring out your apartment window for two months, you may be longing for a change of scenery, too.
It’s not a great idea, Levoy said. Nonessential travel is still a risky proposition, and he said he’d recommend delaying plans through the summer if possible.
For snowbirds who followed recommendations to stay put in Florida if they hadn’t already left by the time the virus hit, it might be safe to head up north now, Levoy said. But those part-time residents should consider how hard the virus has hit their destination and what healthcare resources they’d have there. Depending on the answers, staying put may still be the best option.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the person in the lead photo. That person is Co’chiese Sanders.
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