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What health experts say you should and shouldn't do in public amid COVID-19 concerns

By University Of Utah Health | Posted - Apr. 13, 2020 at 8:00 a.m.



Across the country, orders are telling us to stay home or shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. But how we put them into practice is subject to interpretation. While we may be allowed to make daily outings to stores and gather with small groups of friends, University of Utah Health experts say it is best to minimize trips and interactions as much as possible.

Here are some reasons why:

COVID-19 is highly contagious.

People can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 through droplets from the mouth or the nose—including saliva, nasal discharge, coughing, or sneezing.

Droplets can land on people who are nearby or can contaminate common surfaces (e.g., tabletops, counters, handrails) either directly or from people's hands.

People who don’t have symptoms can still be contagious and spread the virus.

People may acquire COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces that have the virus on them and then touching their nose, eyes, or mouth.

"Wear a cloth mask, cough or sneeze into your arm, wash your hands as much as possible, and try not to touch your face," says Michael Rubin, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology at U of U Health. "Think of your hands as the main way you can get the virus or give it to someone else."

With this in mind, U of U Health experts have recommendations for common questions.

Can I get together with friends?

While this is an important time to remain socially connected with friends, it is best to stay physically distant. Instead of inviting someone into your home, meet them outside while staying at least six feet apart. To minimize risk of exposure, limit outdoor visits to the fewest number of people possible—and no more than five. Avoid passing out treats or exchanging supplies. If you must, clean them with disinfectant wipes or soap and water, and then wash your hands right away.

Can I visit my grandparents?

It can be hard to stay apart from people you are close to, particularly grandparents. But if they are over the age of 65, they are at high risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19. The same is true for anyone with chronic medical conditions including asthma or diabetes, or anyone who is immunocompromised. For this reason, stay in touch with phone calls, written notes, or virtual visits instead of going to them in person.

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If anyone considered high-risk needs help, quickly evaluate the severity of the situation. Can you provide coaching by phone or video call either to the individual or someone else in the home? Can a health care provider address the concern through a telehealth virtual visit? If a personal visit cannot be avoided, change into clean clothes, preferably right before entering the home, remove your shoes outside, wear a cloth mask, and wash hands thoroughly before you do anything else. If the situation is life-threatening, call 911.

How often should I go to the store?

A little preparation can go a long way toward keeping you safe. Keep store visits to a minimum by planning meals and stocking up on food and other necessities for the short-term (there is no need to hoard). The less often you visit public spaces, the better. If you can’t make it an entire week, try to limit your store visits to once every three days. To minimize exposure even further, consider having your groceries delivered and ordering restaurant take-out on occasion.

When you’re at the store, wear a cloth mask and wipe down the handle of your shopping cart with disinfectant wipes that are frequently available near the store entrance. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands when you get home. You can find additional grocery shopping tips here.

Can I go to the park?

Yes! Fresh air and exercise are not only good for the body but good for your mental health. In Utah, we are fortunate to have a wealth of trails, parks, and recreation areas to choose from. Get outdoors while complying with laws that restrict access to certain areas and stay away from parking lots, trailheads, and city parks that are crowded.

When outside, stay at least six feet away from others, avoid touching common surfaces such as handrails and park benches, and wash your hands when you get home. Even though it may be hard, keep children off of playground equipment. While this isn’t the time to play contact sports with friends, a simple walk, run, skate, or bike ride will do wonders. See additional tips for keeping active both indoors and out.

We're in this together

"Limit your risk by staying home as much as possible," Rubin advises. "We’re depending on each other. The more precautions we take now, the better it will be for all of us in the long run."

University Of Utah Health

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