Bear in mind that your personal risk depends on your age, health, the safety precautions you take before indulging in these activities, and the prevalence of the virus in your area.
After spending what seems like forever cooped up inside, most of us are simply rearing to get outside and enjoy the summer to the fullest. However, the novel coronavirus is still very much a threat to all of us and it would be incredibly foolish not to weigh the new risks of activities like going to the beach, camping, dining out, etc. Thankfully, a panel of infectious disease and public health experts have rated the risks of 12 popular summer activities for us to consider before deciding whether it would be right for us. Bear in mind that your personal risk depends on your age, health, the safety precautions you take before indulging in these activities, and the prevalence of the virus in your area.
Speaking to NPR, Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University, pointed out that since there's no such thing as a zero-risk outing right now, it's up to each individual to consider the available information and decide what's safe. "We can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place," he said. However, there's one rule of thumb that you'd do well to follow: "The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors."
Gathering in a spacious outdoor area with another small group is relatively low on the risk scale. However, the deciding factor here is how well your guests have been adhering to precautionary social distancing measures. "If you have a gathering with one other household that [has] followed social distancing, this would be a low-risk activity," said Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Oregon Health & Science University. Moreover, keep in mind to avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, and reduce the chances of your guests having to use your bathroom as, according to Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, "Once you move into the house with others, the risk profile goes up."
Indoor dining "is still amongst the riskier things you can do," warned Dr. Emily Landon, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. Miller explained that the trouble here is "people tend to linger in restaurants. So even if spacing is OK, the duration of exposure is longer." Also, talking "appears to lead to some release of the virus," he said. Dr. Andrew Janowski, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Washington University in St. Louis, stated that in addition to reducing and spacing out seating, requiring servers to wear masks, and setting up easily accessible hand-washing stations, restaurants should provide single-use options for condiments so you don't have to touch shared ones. If you absolutely must go to a restaurant, look for one with outdoor seating.
"All of the ingredients are there for the potential for a lot of people becoming infected in the short amount of time," said Kimberly Powers, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Several experts noted that singing—be it from the pews or the choir—is high risk. It may be helpful to avoid any shared worship items like hymnals and if people are appropriately socially distanced, wear masks, and avoid singing.
If proper social distancing measures are followed, experts say this could be a pretty safe activity. According to Janowski, the water itself isn't a risk since "the sheer volume of water will dilute out the virus, making the water a highly unlikely source of infection." However, be extra careful of crowds at entry points and bathrooms and maintain social distance both on land and in the water. Landon suggested choosing a beach day rather than a pool day as it gives you more space and recommends going early in the morning or late afternoon when crowds are lower.
"Outdoors reduces the risk, but as people are celebrating and drinking, it seems like they may not social distance as readily," said Karan. "These types of events end up being large crowds where people are having extended face-to-face conversations." "Bringing people from other communities" is high risk, warned Landon. "If people have to travel by car, by plane, from other places, you're really asking for it."
According to Landon, restrooms have been designed to prevent disease transmission. "There are all sorts of things that you can catch from other people's poop, and you almost never do, because they're set up with all hard surfaces that can be cleaned," she said. However, the risk depends on the number of confirmed cases in the locality and the cleanliness of the bathroom, said Janowski. Miller recommends avoiding small, busy, and poorly ventilated restrooms such as "those restrooms in a gas station off the highway where the restroom is outside."
"As far as summer activities go, this is least risky from a virus perspective," said Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. However, the low-risk rating depends on a few factors. The lower-risk scenario here is if you are "camping in an isolated outdoor location with your family." On the other hand, if you're at a crowded campground with a shared restroom and communal picnic areas, you're more likely to catch the virus. "Sleeping in tents together with others [not from your household] can certainly be a setup for transmission," added Karan.
If both families have been quarantining and limiting their exposure to others, experts believe this is a relatively safe activity. "If one family is very active or parents have higher-exposure jobs, then the risk increases," warned Miller. Meanwhile, Landon believes this could be a good idea, especially if the house is "in the woods where you're not going to have a lot of contact with other people." However, it is important to talk to the other family beforehand to establish the precautions everyone will take in the two weeks before arrival and while you're there.
Staying at a hotel is relatively low risk as long as you limit your time in common areas such as the lobby, gym, restaurant, and elevator. Bear in mind to wipe down the TV remote control and other common surfaces with disinfecting wipes. Also, make sure to ask about the hotel's cleaning policies and order room service rather than eating at the restaurant. "Beware of the elevators! Use the knuckle of your little or ring finger to press the buttons," said Miller.
Since a haircut involves "close contact and breathing that is extended for several minutes," Karan notes that the risk is quite high and that cloth masks wouldn't do much to keep one safe in this scenario. Janowski agrees and deemed it one of the highest-risk scenarios on this list, as it would be impossible to maintain 6 feet distance from someone cutting your hair. "All it takes is [having] one asymptomatic but infected worker, and suddenly many customers are at high risk of infection," he warned.
This depends on what kind of mall it is, how long you spend at the mall, and how crowded it is. "Crowds with high density lead to a substantial increase in risk," said Miller. "The major mitigating factor is that people don't mingle in a single place for long." Recommending that you go only if you have to, Landon said: "As much as you may like retail therapy, you should browse online before you go. Know what you're going to pick up or try on. Wear your mask. Go in, look at it. Make your decision and get out."
Exercising outdoors is a good way to burn off steam as long as you aren't playing group sports. "I would personally avoid contact sports until we have a better sense of transmission risk here," said Karan. As for running, Powers said: "If you're not on a crowded path where people are brushing past each other, then I think that's a great form of exercise right now." Meanwhile, tennis is a good team sport you could consider since it carries a much lower risk. "You're far apart on either side. That's definite social distancing," said Landon.