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Summer Safety during COVID-19: Tips for Reducing Your Risk

July 10, 2020social distancing

As the world gradually returns to a “new normal” from the plight of the pandemic, family medicine physician Dr. Stephanie Flaherty reminds us that everything carries a relative risk for COVID-19 infection. While we can and should enjoy summer in many ways, for our mental well-being, it’s essential to always weigh our risk level and take the proper safety precautions.  

If you’re unsure about whether or not you should do something, three key factors can help you evaluate your risk, says Dr. Flaherty, of West Berlin Primary & Specialty Care. They are proximity, activity, and time.

Proximity simply refers to social distancing. If you aren’t able to social distance (stay at least 6-feet apart) from others outside your household, you should opt-out of the activity.

Activity – Many studies have supported that outdoor activities, such as going to a park, beach, camp, or playground, pose a lesser risk of transmission through respiratory droplets than being closed-up indoors, with poor ventilation. However, being outdoors doesn’t remove your risk entirely, explains Dr. Flaherty. “Crowds can have a significant impact on your risk level, making it necessary to take more safety measures.”  

When outdoors, stay smart (and safe) with these risk-reduction tips:

  • Avoid peak times and/or visit less crowded locations.
  • Always wear a mask in areas you’re unable to social distance from others.
  • Follow set physical barriers/modified layouts (such as signs or chair arrangements) or use your own visual reminders to help social distance.
  • Wash your hands after coming in contact with high-touch surfaces.
  • Above all else, stay home if you feel sick!

Time is another essential factor to account for, because the longer you linger in close proximity to others, the higher your risk for infection. This is why your typical “hangouts” with friends or family are still widely discouraged, says Dr. Flaherty.

“Even if it’s something as small as inviting one friend over for a sleepover, the proximity, activity, and time all work against you and increase your risk,” explained Dr. Flaherty. “It’s still wise to stick to virtual chats or brief visits from a safe distance.”

Traveling can also greatly increase your risk for exposure. If you are considered a “high-risk” individual due to underlying health conditions, you should avoid it entirely, says Dr. Flaherty. If you’re in good health and decide to plan a short trip, you can decrease your risk for exposure by following these safety tips:

  • Check the hotel’s COVID-19 prevention practices (i.e., cleaning and masking protocols) prior to booking a room.
  • Try to minimize use of common areas (i.e., the lobby, lounging area, laundry room, etc.) as much as possible; when you do go, wear a face mask.
  • Try not to use the elevator with others from outside your household.
  • If possible, opt for contactless check-in and payment.
  • Above all else, avoid going to towns or states with reported COVID-19 spikes.

If you start to feel sick while on vacation, you should immediately self-isolate and call your doctor, explains Dr. Flaherty. “Until you’re evaluated, use supportive care, such as Tylenol, and increase your hydration. If you experience severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, go directly to the nearest emergency room.”

While all of these different rules and tips may seem to put a damper on your summer plans, keep in mind that they’re paramount for your well-being and the safety of your community, says Dr. Flaherty. These actions are key to reducing the spread of the virus.

Not being able to release stress through the same fun, summer outlets you’re used to can take a toll on your mental health. Try to find safe ways to cope, such as meditation or something as simple as taking a walk, adds Dr. Flaherty. “It’s okay to express how you’re feeling and seek help when you need it. You can always reach out to your primary care provider as the first step. Remember, we’ll get through this together.”

For more information on how to properly protect yourself and limit risks throughout your daily life, visit www.CDC.gov.

To learn more about Primary & Specialty Care and telehealth services at Jefferson Health New Jersey, click HERE.