Summer has begun, and people around the country are flocking to open beaches, packing open bars and restaurants, and attending backyard barbecues.
But, many are leaving one important thing behind – safety in the “new normal” of COVID-19.
“The warmer weather has arrived and as states relax their stay-at-home orders it’s only normal for people to want to enjoy the fresh air, get some exercise and participate in sports, as well as reconnect with friends and family,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the infectious diseases division at Baystate Medical Center.
“However, we need to remember that COVID-19 is still very much in our communities and it’s imperative until we have a vaccine to continue to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing,” he added.
Dr. Paez answers the following questions to keep you safe this summer:
Q: Is it safe to go to the beach this summer and what precautions would you recommend?
A: Visiting the beach varies in risk depending upon the circumstances. As best we know, there is little risk of catching COVID-19 from jumping into the salty ocean water for a swim. What is of concern are the videos we saw on Memorial Day weekend of crowded beaches, where there was little social distancing and many not wearing masks. I cannot stress enough the need to maintain social distancing and wear a mask.
Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through most recreational water, and thus, there is no recommendation that you need to wear any facemask going down into the water. Additional concerns are high-touch bathhouses at the seashore, boardwalks where people congregate, and food stands and restaurants. Consider packing your own meal for the beach, don’t forget your hand sanitizer, and, as always, protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays by applying sunscreen regularly.
Q: Is it safe to cool off in a public pool, one at a hotel, or at someone’s home other than your own?
A: Who doesn’t want to cool off in a pool this summer, especially if you have no air conditioning at home. It’s also fun and all that splashing around can be physically healthy. But, not all public pools will open this summer. It is important to note, however, that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chlorine in the water should kill the virus. What is of concern is maintaining social distancing while in a crowded pool, perhaps much easier for an adult than children.
There are also a number of high-touch areas to consider, such as railings, lounge chairs (which should be at least six feet apart), and in changing rooms and at the snack bar where the coronavirus can still live. While it may not be practical to wear a mask in the water, I would certainly wear one outside of the pool. You need to be comfortable with the family whose home you are visiting, as well as others they have invited to enjoy their pool. Just as at the beach, don’t forget your sunscreen and hand sanitizer.
Q: Should I use a public restroom?
A: Depending on the size of the restroom and the opportunity to maintain social distancing, there is little chance of contracting COVID-19, which is a respiratory virus spread by talking, coughing, or sneezing. Since we know there is risk from touching contaminated objects, it is best to use a paper towel to flush the toilet, to turn water on and off, when using the soap dispenser, and when touching any door handles. Some restrooms today only have hand dryers, which can blow germs and droplets into the air. If there are no paper towels, use toilet tissue or hand sanitizer, which everyone should carry with them ‘just in case.’
Q: If I stop at a roadside food stand, can I eat safely at picnic tables they have placed outside?
A: It is reasonably safe to use the picnic tables as COVID-19 is mostly transmitted mainly by the respiratory route. It is recommended that shared objects including tables, chairs, trays, etc. be cleaned and disinfected between each use. It is possible that the virus can be spread by touching a surface that has the virus and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
Q: If I’m outdoors running or walking, do I need to wear a mask? They are hard to breathe in and exercise makes it harder.
A: There’s nothing like a good cardiovascular workout offered by running or a brisk walk. If you are out in the neighborhood having yourself a healthy walk, I think it is fine not to wear a mask, but you still may want to carry one with you just in case you see someone you want to speak with. On the other hand, if you are walking along more congested city sidewalks, then it’s a good idea to wear your mask.
Runners should also practice social distancing, and wearing a mask will depend on how congested the area is where you are running. Definitely wear a mask if with someone or in a group. Still, running alone is probably best during the pandemic. If you find it hard to breathe when running with a mask, try to find a trail that will allow you to run by yourself without the need to wear a mask. Otherwise, it may be better to find an alternative activity.
Q: My kids want to go to the playground this summer. Is it safe to play and climb on everything there?
A: The CDC advises against using playgrounds, including water playgrounds, located within local, state, or national parks. Jungle gyms, slides, swings and other equipment are high touch and can become contaminated with the COVID-19 virus, resulting in becoming infected after touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Also, it’s difficult for children’s to maintain social distancing from other children, especially in crowded parks.
Q: What about playing baseball, basketball and other sports with friends or more organized sports?
A: Group sports with friends and others at the park or in backyards such as baseball, basketball, soccer, and football are risky because they are contact sports and difficult to maintain social distancing and transmission of COVD-19, as opposed to tennis and other racquet sports or golf.
The CDC currently recommends: “No organized sports or activities, given the many challenges of containing the virus in group settings. In general, most organized activities and sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, and football that are held on park fields, open areas, and courts are not recommended during times in which individuals are encouraged or required to practice social distancing. These activities and sports typically require coaches and athletes who are not from the same household or living unit to be in close proximity, which increases their potential for exposure to COVID-19.”
Q: Is hiking safe? Do I need to wear a mask if hiking with others or alone?
A: The physical activity of hiking in the great outdoors can energize the spirit, mind and body. In general, you probably don’t need to wear a mask if hiking alone or with someone from your household. If it’s an organized group hike, I would recommend wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing. Even if you are hiking alone, it’s a good idea to carry a mask with you in case you visit a crowded public area.
Q: What should I consider before sending my child off to camp this summer?
A: Can you imagine your child, especially younger children, maintaining social distancing and proper hygiene at summer camp? Those are questions you need to ask yourself when making the decision to send you child to camp this summer – whether day or sleepover. Yet, that may not be an easy decision if you are back at work and have no other day care options. If that is the case, then there are questions to ask camp officials, such as how they will maintain social distancing and proper sanitation including all equipment, who will be allowed to come and go during their stay, screening policies for children and camp staff, and how will a child be isolated if he or she becomes sick.
Additional information and questions to consider to help guide your decision can be found on such websites as the YMCA, CDC, and the American Camp Association. The CDC considers those camps at lower risk as those with small groups of campers who stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).
Highest risk are those campers who mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county). While infection rates are generally low among children, we continue to learn how the virus is impacting them in different ways. We do know that kids can carry the virus, even without symptoms, and bring it home to others in the household from an infected camper or counselor.
Q: What about recreational camping this summer?
A: That depends upon whether you are camping in the real wilds alone or with family or friends who you know have been practicing COVID safety behaviors, which is low risk, If you are staying in a campground where you would be in close contact with others and sharing restrooms and other amenities offered by the camp, then you need to remember to wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and check on the campground’s safety measures before visiting the camp.
Q: Should I attend a backyard barbecue/party if invited?
A: Having a small outdoor gathering like a backyard barbecue or party with other people from different households who come from the same local area carries small risk for getting COVID-19. It is recommended to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and wear cloth face coverings, and not share objects. While the CDC recently stated that the chance of transmission of COVID-19 from surfaces is not as great as they once thought, the virus can still be transmitted by touching a surface with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
As far as summer vacations are concerned, the CDC still recommends staying at home as much as possible, especially if you are in the high risk category for catching COVID-19.
“Staycations are going to be very popular this summer where families opt to stay home and participate in leisure activities close to home, so they don’t have to sleep overnight somewhere,” said Dr. Paez.
He noted if you do intend on visiting destinations that require air, train, bus, or even car or RV travel, the CDC offers practical tips to travel safely.
“Remember, whatever you decide whether staying home or traveling, it’s important to unplug from work and rejuvenate with time off this summer,” said Dr. Paez.
Learn about safety procedures at Baystate Health.