As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the U.S., some people are slowly starting to adjust to a new normal while others are finding that they're spending more time at home. However, many questions still remain regarding how to act most responsibly and get through everyday decisions that used to be no-brainers. It’s all become stressful and complicated. What better way to find supportive, nonjudgmental advice than from medical front-liners who have seen the coronavirus up close and are themselves adapting to the changes.
Yahoo Life reached out to our four in-house medical experts — psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, emergency medical doctor Dr. Dara Kass, Brookings Institute nonresident fellow Dr. Kavita Patel, and emergency physician and Advancing Health Equity founder and CEO Dr. Uché Blackstock — and asked them to share details about the risks they are willing (and not willing) to take these days.
Masks: when and where?
Hartstein: “If I can't maintain six feet of distance, my mask is on at all times.”
Kass: “I still wear a mask every day, everywhere I go, whenever I'm outside walking, seeing other people.”
Home: Who’s allowed in, and do you personally disrobe and wash your clothes upon entry?
Patel: “We have really not let anybody else come into the house or any kind of playdates or things that my children are doing. They've been doing outdoors and we have not let people inside here.” Regarding clothes, she adds, “When I'm just doing like an outdoor walk, or if I'm going to run errands at the grocery, I do not come back and change clothes. I do not. I only do it when I've been working with patients all day and have what I would consider exposure risk.”
Blackstock: “As soon as I come home, I take my shoes off. I put them in a closet and I take a shower right away. But if I just go to the grocery store or for a walk, I don't do that ... So the only time I do that is when I come from a clinical shift.”
Kass: “So we've been really consistent about how we've let people into our house. Since this virus got under control in New York, we do have somebody that comes in and helps us clean our house. We do let our kids have friends over inside with a mask outside. They can sit six feet apart.”
Hartstein: “I never took off my clothes when I came in from outside… I do not wash all my clothes …when I get home. I never did that. That kind of came and went as something you had to do. And I'm not in places where I'm so exposed. So most of the time I'm outside and literally outside. So I don't feel the need to kind of strip down and wash everything.”
Hand washing and sanitizing: Are you still doing this 24/7?
Patel: “I really believe that it's the only way we can get everybody else to understand that this is something that seems small but can have a big effect on taking care of the virus and also decreasing your chances of getting it.”
Hartstein: “I do hand sanitize a lot and I have little ones that I have on every bag so that I have access to it. Although I actually prefer washing my hands to hand sanitizing, both are very important to do. I think soap and water is really the best way to go.”
Shopping: In-store or online? How careful are you about disinfecting groceries or delivered packages?
Kass: “I have a pretty consistent routine around food shopping, which is that I go food shopping with a mask. I don't wear gloves, some people do, and I think that's totally fine. I actually choose to basically sanitize my hands before I get to the store, treat food shopping like I normally would.” Regarding packages, she says, “A lot of people were concerned that their packages and their mail were going to give them the coronavirus. And that is actually not borne out to be true. So, no, I don't disinfect my packages and I don't disinfect my mail… I put things away in the freezer and the fridge that has to be put away, but I generally keep anything that can stay on the shelf or state in the grocery bag. I just take it out of the car. I leave it in the garage and I don't touch it for at least 24 hours.”
Patel: “As the pandemic kind of kept going and going, I started using online grocery ordering, and honestly it's been working so well that I've continued that.”
Blackstock: “I shop at the grocery store and I don't take any precautions. I think some of the data that we have shown that the virus doesn't really live a long time on food.”
Hartstein: “I do not disinfect packages when they arrive at my home, I open them, empty them and get them out of my home pretty quickly. So we had like a specific spot we kind of put them, but I'd rather just like open it, get it out, wipe down my counter, then worry about disinfecting the box.”
Friends and family: Do you go to their homes? Hug or kiss?
Blackstock: “I definitely go to my sister's because I know she's been very cautious… I've met up with friends, but we definitely have worn masks and tried to physically distance ourselves.”
Hartstein: “Depending on whose house it is, my limits might be different. So I have some friends who I know exactly what they've been doing and exactly how they've been quarantining. And I feel much more comfortable in their house without a mask, maybe a little bit closer to them. Whereas my parents just came back from Florida and are in quarantine and I went to see them but I wear a mask and they wear a mask.” She adds, “I miss hugs and shaking hands and kissing and all of those things. And the fact of the matter is yes, I will absolutely have contact with people again maybe not shaking hands, but kind of giving a hug with my head turned the opposite way of the person.”
Patel: “I will say to you that the hardest part of this pandemic is that I've accepted the fact that I'm just not going to see my family… we're not going to physically see them probably until we have a vaccine. And I know that sounds incredibly harsh, but as a doctor, I am pretty high risk myself. And I do not want to expose my elderly parents or anybody else to that risk.”
Kass: “I think the way we interact with people has fundamentally changed. And I don't think it's going to go back anytime soon. I think that you hug and kiss and are intimate with your family, your immediate family, maybe your brothers and sisters, but I would even argue that it's probably too far and the reason is it's just not worth it. You can spend a lot of time with people, really socially distance, even less than six feet apart.”
School: If you have kids, will you send them back in the fall if that’s an option? Have you done any summer camp?
Patel: “I do not feel confident that we have enough data about children to send them back to school right now. So I am working with my children's schools on trying to think about protocols and how to make it safe to come back to school.”
Kass: “We will try to send our kids to school because the benefits are different and the virus is different and our knowledge is different. And so, to me, the choice between camp and school is different and we're choosing to invest in schools versus camps.”
Blackstock: “Definitely no summer camp. I made a decision early on even if the situation got better, we weren't going to do even day camp.”
Recreation: Are you dining out? Going to salons? What about beaches, pools, parks and gyms?
Kass: “I am not dining inside. And I don't see that happening in the near term. I am absolutely dining outside and I am absolutely drinking outside. I think that it's really important to remember that we have to find a new normal.” She adds, “I got a haircut and my nails done and a pedicure and I do a lot of these things to see how the stores are doing. And so the haircut was extraordinarily safe. Everyone was wearing a mask. They took my temperature. When I got to the facility, I had to have an appointment and I was able to know that nobody else would be there.”
Blackstock: “You will not catch me dining indoors. We have so much data that shows that is just not safe. And there's even some recent data that shows there's likely airborne transmission of coronavirus so that the particles just like hanging in the air for long periods like ours. And so we know that restaurants, clubs and bars are areas where there's a high degree of transmission.” Regarding the gym, she adds, “No, no way. I mean, because we know in the gym that people are breathing really loudly, they're sweating, they're touching all the equipment. I feel like the gym is a prime environment for there to be transmission of the virus. So while I miss my gym terribly… I've decided to I run outside. I do home workouts.”
Hartstein: “I have returned to getting my haircut. I have gotten my hair colored. I have an upcoming nail appointment but I'm really mindful of what are the salons doing to keep me safe and what am I doing to keep them safe?” She adds, “I go to Central Park twice a week and walk with a friend. So I definitely am in the park, but I'm not setting up a picnic basket and eating in the park.”
Patel: “My gym is open now and I asked to freeze my membership. I'm debating about canceling my membership and I'll tell you why. I do worry that the gym is even if they take all the precautions possible. I don't know if working out inside with a mask on will just give me that same kind of endorphin and exercise release that I would go to the gym and look for. So it is highly likely that I will cancel my membership.”
Travel: Any plans for summer excursions? Would you stay in an Airbnb or hotel? Would you drive or fly?
Patel: “I would not go on a plane unless I had to in an emergency. So, we do not have any, we canceled plans that involved a plane or a hotel. The only thing we did was something where we could drive to someplace that we could kind of feel really assured that it was free of any risk, as much as possible, but nothing besides that, no.” She adds, “If you have to take a bus or a Metro or subway for work, I think that's different. And if I did, I would wear a mask…I mean, I would kind of look like one of these, you know, hospital workers on a bus probably, but I, I'm not doing it for, for pleasure or bringing my family on to any of those things.”
Blackstock: “I was talking with my family and we'll definitely take a road trip somewhere. We're not getting into a plane… It'll be somewhere close to New York City where we live.” She adds, “A hotel or Airbnb I would consider, but, definitely would go in with my own bleach wipes and wipe all the surfaces down before I put any of my belongings down.”
Hartstein: “Buses are cleaner than ever in New York City…So if I really need to get on them, it's another place actually that I wear gloves. I'll put gloves on if I can and wear my mask… Would I stay in a hotel or an Airbnb? I imagine that they are cleaner than they've ever been because everybody knows what's at risk. So the truth is I might, if I had travel plans, I might not be as worried about that as maybe I should be, but I probably would be okay with it because I imagine that they are cleaner than ever. “
The future: When do you imagine we’ll have a vaccine?
Patel: “We definitely will have a vaccine…I do not think we will have a vaccine that myself or just regular people can get until at least early to mid-2021. And that's just because it takes a long time to make these vaccines. And then the entire world is going to want these vaccines.”
Kass: “I am optimistic that eventually, we will have a vaccine for this coronavirus. I am not sure when that will happen, remembering that even if a vaccine candidate is found, you're going to have to produce it. You're going to have to have a public relations campaign to convince people to take it… We have to learn how to live with this virus in a reasonable way that allows us to protect our friends and our family.”
Blackstock: “I think ultimately we'll probably have a vaccine that's like the flu vaccine, that works partially… I'm thinking probably the earliest won't be until spring or fall 2021.”
Hartstein: “Fingers crossed — hope we have a vaccine — and the hard part about vaccines is we need empirically supported data that it's effective. So it's not something we can rush.”
This story was originally published on July 16, 2020, at 4:40 p.m. ET.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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