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As people go back out in public, experts weigh in on where the risks are

Though the state is beginning to reopen, the coronavirus still exists. Here’s how to stay safe and what you should know.

As Florida reopens, people have more choices now than in the past month of where they can go. But the risk of catching and suffering from coronavirus remains. There isn’t a vaccine, and new cases and deaths are recorded each day.

If people do go out in public, experts weigh how risky different activities are.

“It’s one thing if you don’t want to take precautions for yourself, but as part of a community, we have a responsibility in my opinion to one another,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida.

Beaches and parks

Coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors compared to close, indoor spaces, so experts say going to beaches and parks is generally low risk — depending on how many other people are around. Levine said people should still practice social distancing and aim to keep within their household groups.

“Going to the beach is a great thing for our physical and mental well being, but in the era of COVID, it’s all contingent upon maintaining physical distancing,” Levine said. “To some degree, you have to assume everybody else you don’t know may be somebody who you could catch COVID from."

She said like any other trip, before people head out they need to consider what they might do if they encounter certain situations, like a packed beach.

Gyms

In an indoor environment, the chances of spreading and catching coronavirus are higher. Cindy Prins, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said she worries about droplets that would hang in the air, especially as people are working up a sweat and breathing hard.

Social distancing should still be maintained, and equipment should be cleaned thoroughly. She recommends people wear a mask when working out inside a gym to reduce risk. She said exercise groups that may meet outdoors can be safer, but it depends on how many people are coming and how many people an individual is getting exposed to.

Houses of worship

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that faith leaders make supplies like disposable masks, soap and hand sanitizer available so people can practice proper hygiene.

Prins said because people are together in a close setting, she would advise them to wear masks to reduce their risk. She also said people shouldn’t participate in some aspects of a service, like greeting or hugging. Even singing may be a cause for concern, which is why if someone does return to a place of worship, Prins said a mask would be important.

Salons

Prins said she went to get her hair cut this past weekend, at a salon where both she and the stylist wore masks and the styling chair was distant from the next one being used.

She said before people go places, they should consider the factors of the specific business. They should look at how large it is, how clean it generally is and still wear a mask. Levine said people should also consider the precautions the business is taking, and make sure they don’t let employees come in when they’re sick.

Levine agrees that both stylists and customers should wear masks, especially because a haircut is a prolonged, close encounter, which presents a higher risk than a brief encounter with passerby.

Restaurants

Restaurants, like most open businesses, still have restrictions and can only operate at 50 percent capacity. Levine said people should research the restaurant, how clean it generally is and observe what precautions they’re taking for the virus.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s about doing your homework and basing it on what you determine your own personal risk and your family risk is, even before you go in there,” she said.

Even with the restrictions, Prins said there’s still a moderate risk to going out and eating because of the number of people that can be inside a restaurant. She said wait staff still interact with a lot of people, and depending on the layout of a restaurant, even at half capacity there can still be a number of people exposed to each other.

Outdoor parties or gatherings

Being outside may be safer than being indoors, but what does that mean for large gatherings? At something like a barbecue, people likely won’t be wearing masks while they eat and drink, Prins said.

“You’re encountering lots of different people who may have themselves encountered lots of different people,” she said.

As the state has reopened and more and more becomes available, Levine worries that people are taking that as if there’s no existing coronavirus threat. Nothing has changed on that front, she said. There’s still no vaccine, and there’s still no solid treatment.

If people don’t isolate and respect social distancing and instead interact as if things are normal, then they’re relying on nothing more than luck, she said.

“I think the point here is to be prepared and to minimize your risk, and don’t be totally dependent on luck,” Levine said.

Hospitals and doctors offices

People who need care shouldn’t put it off. And if any public spaces have strong health practices in place, it’s doctors’ offices and hospitals. Prins said people should still wear a mask, which many doctor’s offices are requiring from patients. Hospitals have a good system of screening people and isolating anyone who does have coronavirus, so people shouldn’t fear getting care if they urgently need it.

Meeting other people

If people are going to interact beyond their household and broaden their circle to meet friends, they’re exposing themselves to more risk, Levine said.

“You don’t know what your friends have been up to,” she said.

Friends should have conversations about the precautions they’ve been taking and see if they can all take steps to minimize their individual risk to make a group gathering less dangerous, Levine said.

Prins said people should still err on the side of caution when it comes to broadening the amount of people they see. If they do, they should weigh their individual risk and also the risk to the other person, and make sure the other party has been responsible. If more people do meet, she recommends they still practice social distancing.

“I would be cautious still right now because we do still have a decent number of new cases being identified every day,” she said.

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