What’s the Risk? Do’s and Don'ts as the World Re-Opens

As we open up, public health experts weigh in on risks of venturing out 

May 29, 2020 

"Assume everyone has the virus"

It’s hard to believe it’s only been about six months since we first learned about a new coronavirus in China. Since those reports in late December, doctors now know the coronavirus spreads easily from person to person, it can be spread by people who don't have any symptoms and children can also contract the illness.

“So, the only way to really protect yourself from this virus is to assume that you have the virus and everyone else does as well,” said Dr. David Tillman, chair of the Department of Public Health at Campbell University. “Because the virus spreads when you talk, laugh, cough and sneeze, and even breathe you need to act accordingly to protect yourself and keep everyone else safe.”

So we asked Dr. Tillman what’s the safest way to re-enter the world as public and private spaces open up.

Weighing risks

As the nation reopens, you can choose to do something. But should you? It depends on how much risk you are willing to take. Tillman advised in all cases to:

• Wear a mask
• Social distance
• Outdoor activities are better than indoors
• The shorter the activity in public the better
• wash your hands, don’t touch your face

Life in the Covid-19 world is a series of judgement calls. Here's how Tillman reccomends thinking about the diffrerent options. 

Eating in a restaurant

“I would definitely eat out because part of a restaurant's business model is public health,” said Tillman. “Employees know how to keep you safe. Plus, state health officials and the restaurant association have worked together on additional safety measures.”

Tillman stressed to make sure there is social distancing and that employees and patrons are wearing masks when moving about the restaurant. Also, eating outdoors is best, if it’s possible.

Going to the pool or the beach

“The risk here is in your contact with others and, for the most part, that is completely in your control,” said Tillman. Outdoors is always safer, but it’s important to keep a good social distance from others at all times.

Going shopping

“Indoors, whether it’s a grocery store or a mall increases the risk,” said Tillman. “But if you wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance the risk is reduced."

Be smart. Go shopping during off hours when it is less crowded. And if you see shoppers and employees without masks or long lines without spacing, don’t go in.

Going to a movie theater

“This is real challenge because theaters were designed to keep you comfortable for a long period,” said Tillman. “And long stretches of time, indoors, with strangers, in places that aren’t well ventilated is risky.”

In addition, mask wearing would be impossible if you are eating during the movie. Tillman stressed he would have to really think about going to a movie because of the risk, but that a wearing a mask and staying as far apart from other people would be vital in a theater.

Going to church

“Speaking and singing in a crowded building with poor ventilation is a scenario where you really have to be careful,” said Tillman. “Limiting the singing, requiring face masks, and spacing out seating would help but there is still a risk.” Outdoor services where people can spread out are safest.

Going to the gym

“The risk is respiration not perspiration," said Tillman. He said that while cleaning equipment and mats is important, it’s the intense breathing of people while they exercise that creates the issue. People would have to wear a mask, which would be a challenge while exercising.

Limiting the number of people at one time in the gym, to promote social distancing, would also be important.

Getting your haircut

“Check the spacing of chairs, make sure the barber or stylist is wearing a mask,” said Tillman. “And each person must weigh the risk of a lengthy procedure like hair coloring." Tillman adds whatever choices you make in the new Covid-19 world, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.