(With Memorial Day serving as the unofficial first day of summer, and with the official first day this week, people will be tempted to go to the pool, the beach or take a vacation. Recognizing that we are still experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked Dr. Joe Kanter, assistant state health officer, if traditional summertime activities can happen during a pandemic and, if so, are there any special precautions that individuals and families should take?)
Is it safe to go swimming?
We don’t believe the virus can spread very easily through the water, whether it is salt water or chlorinated, swimming pool water. The virus isn’t going to move across the water from one person to another. The risk, however, is getting too close to others while in the pool. That’s the same risk as if you are not in a pool; COVID-19 spreads easiest by breathing, speaking, coughing, singing or laughing when in close proximity to another person, whether in or out of the pool.
What about going to summer camps or large get-togethers like family barbecues?
Camping, fishing and barbecuing are all low-risk activities. Families should get outside. To be safe, identify who is in your close group — know who they are because that contributes to your exposure risk. And, if there are members of your close group who are at a higher risk … such as over 65 or who have underlying health conditions. What is riskier, are the things you have to do to get to the campsite or the fishing site. This includes stopping at a gas station or going shopping for supplies. This is where you really need to take the precautions: wear masks, use hand sanitizer and keep your distance from others.
Are there any activities that people should avoid altogether?
You should avoid anything that involves a crowd. When you are real close to others, your or someone else’s respiratory droplets can spread the virus. The same distance requirements apply whether indoors or outside.
What other considerations are important?
You should always try to decrease your risks. If the restaurant offers outdoor seating, use that option because eating outside is safer. You should also judge the establishment to get a sense as to how seriously they take these precautions. If you see a whole bunch of people crowding around one another, that’s not a place you want to go to. It’s not worth the risk.
What responsibilities do business owners have?
We’re looking to businesses to take the necessary steps to protect their employees and their patrons. As customers, we should vote with our feet and go to places where they exhibit concern for safety. That’s good business practices right now.
What about hotels and vacation homes? What precautions should we take when renting a room or another place to stay?
Make sure that wherever go stay, that the business — Airbnb, hotel and condo operator — should thoroughly clean and wipe down between guests. This includes cleaning hard surfaces, door handles, bathrooms.
And, we should do that wiping down ourselves, as well, with a clean, sanitized cloth rag. The biggest risk is when you are in the lobby when you are checking in or leaving. Be sure to keep distance between yourself and others. You want to make sure you are wearing your mask and that other people are wearing their masks. That will increase your safety.
Is there anything that we should keep in mind while traveling this summer?
When traveling by plane, use your mask on the flight and while in the airport. This will go a long way to prevent the spread of the virus. People should be aware of all hard surfaces they touch. Limit the amount that you touch countertops, door handles, handrails, escalator rails. Use hand sanitizer after touching these surfaces.
Also, do what you can to avoid lines. If you see a line forming, just hang back and wait until that line gets shorter. Be cognizant of the people around you. And, if possible, avoid situations where you would be within 6 feet of others.
Is it possible to have a safe summer vacation?
Yes, it is possible to be safe on a summer vacation. But, families may want to reevaluate where they want to go. Today, driving a few hours is a more appealing option than getting on a plane because it’s a lot simpler.
And, you should watch the news to see what’s going on in the locations that you are considering as a destination. If I was planning a trip to a place where they are experiencing a growing outbreak, I would reconsider and go someplace else. Families should take this all into consideration.
Any final thoughts on reducing your risk this summer?
Anytime you travel, there are risks. There are things families can do to mitigate their risks because you can’t eliminate all risks. You have to look at your family situation, take into account who is in your family — do you have older family members or do some members have underlying conditions — take those into account and make a responsible decision.