There are a lot of people in the world giving input into how exactly to stay safe, and not everyone agrees. The truth is we have some ideas of things that can help people stay safe from this coronavirus, but there are no guarantees. That is why it is important to understand your family's risk tolerance, which we will discuss more in the next section.
There are some rules that are generally accepted as important safety measures when socializing. Remember - when you follow safety rules, you are not JUST protecting yourself. You are protecting all of your loved ones and your community.
1. Wear a mask at ALL times, except when eating and drinking. If you do take off your mask, make sure you are at least 6' apart and outdoors.
2. Stay 6' apart at all times.
3. Stay outdoors.
4. Gather in very small groups.
5. Avoid going indoors, especially using public restrooms. If indoors, wear your mask and stay 6' apart, and stay indoors for as short a time as possible.
6. Wash your hands often and properly.
7. Avoid coming in contact with the same utensils or containers. Bring your own water and snacks, and/or don't share foods.
8. Only socialize with someone who you can trust to follow the same guidelines. Trust is a really important factor to consider when deciding how you can socialize more safely.
There's Always A Risk
The official recommendation is that people “avoid gatherings of any size outside your household, such as [in] a friend’s house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place.” That’s especially important for people who are sick; know or suspect they’ve been exposed to COVID-19; are in a high-risk group, like the elderly or immune-compromised; or live with someone who fits into any of these categories.
Remember: There are risks even with no symptoms and no matter what age.
Those guidelines were more practical during the initial quarantine period. Now that this virus has dragged on and on, people are starting to try to find "loopholes." It is important to understand how to stay more safe if choosing to selectively socialize, and how to evaluate the risk of each scenario.
The Risk Spectrum
In the video, I described risk as a "spectrum." This means that it's not a black and white issue of "this is safe" and "this is unsafe." There is a lot of gray area, with various chances of coming into contact with the virus.
The safest option is to stay at home and to only interact with your housemates, who also only interact with each other.
The LEAST SAFE option is to gather somewhere indoors without masks and social distancing, with recycled air, with many people talking, singing, laughing, coughing, sneezing, etc.
One thing scientists are trying to figure out is if it matters how long you are exposed to the virus and how much of the virus you are in contact with.
The factors that determine how safe or unsafe an activity is include location (indoors, outdoors), number of people, masks, social distancing, length of time, recycled air vs. fresh air, and what activities you participate in. This is a lot to consider, and we don't know exactly how much more risky each activity is. Here is a rough visual of the risk spectrum.
Other factors to consider include your family's risk tolerance. Do you live with people who are elderly? Do people in your household have immune compromised systems? Are they at higher risk because of health conditions?
An Essential Conversation
Have a conversation with your family about socializing safely. Decide what your family's risk tolerance is, and which activities on the spectrum are deemed safe enough for you to participate in. Make notes so that you can double check that you are following the appropriate guidelines when you make plans with a friend.