All 50 states in the U.S. have now reopened in some capacity after months of closures and restrictions intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Like the restrictions themselves, guidance about which businesses can reopen and which activities are deemed acceptable has varied by state and city. And while the most effective way to stem the COVID-19 pandemic is still to stay home, many Americans are looking for ways to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Yahoo News spoke with Dr. Dara Kass, a Yahoo News Medical Contributor and associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, about the best way to ease back into some activities with minimal risk. Her advice? Seek outdoor activities in small groups that you can curate.
“I would probably start with outside activities with people I can control that actually give me joy,” Kass says. “I think meeting a friend, sitting outside, having a drink is a great way to start.
“Start on the stoop, maybe the driveway, maybe the backyard. Find out where the friend’s been, have they felt sick, who they’ve seen,” she adds. “You really can start building out your circle one other family at a time, maybe a couple of friends, in a safe and predictable environment.”
Even some open-air public spaces like parks and beaches can present lower risks if social distancing measures are implemented. Wind can quickly dilute the virus, which reduces the chances of it spreading outdoors, and the virus is unlikely to spread in water, according to the CDC.
“You want to sit with the people that are already living in your house or the people you’ve already decided are in your quarantine circle,” Kass says of visiting outdoor spaces. She also recommends wearing a mask or face covering on your way to and from the park or beach; but removing your mask once you’ve settled down away from others is OK too.
People practice social distancing in white circles in Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Once you move indoors, however, the likelihood of contracting or spreading the virus increases; and the more people you surround yourself with, the more your chances are amplified.
“When you look at a space that’s inside, with 10, 20, 30 people, that’s when your risk gets higher and higher,” Kass says of religious services or other community gatherings.
On Friday, President Trump called on state governors to reopen houses of worship despite numerous reports of outbreaks from churches in the U.S., with at least 33 African-American church leaders dying from COVID-19.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogue and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very essential places of faith to open right now.”
The pandemic has transformed the way many congregations practice their faith and put a damper on spring observances such as Easter, Passover and Ramadan.
But as lockdown measures begin lifting, Kass says, religious communities can get creative to mitigate the risk of worshiping together. “If you’re in a community that wants to start gathering to pray together, maybe you start praying outside. Maybe you start by selecting small groups within your community to go and be pew-sitters while everybody else is at home, and you rotate who’s actually in the facility, in the temple, in the church, in the synagogue in person.”
“The reason to start slow is to make sure that we can do it again,” Kass explains. “We don’t want to go out to a party or a big backyard barbecue and then find out that a dozen people got infected.
“This is the beginning of our new normal — not just a one-day pass from the social isolation that we’ve been experiencing.”
Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.