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What activities are safe to do this summer?

Allison Weinmann, MD, for Henry Ford Health System
Wondering what to do this summer? An infectious disease specialist rates activities based upon risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Although states are slowly reopening, COVID-19 is still a threat. While some may have thought COVID-19 cases would decrease during the summer months (like the seasonal flu), that’s not the case. We’ve seen cases of COVID-19 in countries with hot weather, and we’re seeing them now during the summer in Michigan. The fact that people are outdoors more often during the summer could help reduce transmission, but there are also surges of cases as people emerge from stay-at-home orders.

The COVID-19 incubation period is, on average, six to 14 days, so the activities people are doing today we’ll see the outcome of in two weeks.

Allison Weinmann, MD.

The good news is that we know how to prevent this illness — we know that safety and social distancing measures work because although rates are now going up again, they did plummet in Michigan. And until there’s a vaccine, these measures are the best way to reduce transmission. Don’t take part in high-risk activities, wear masks, and before participating in any activity, see how you can minimize your risk.

Here I’ve laid out a variety of summer activities based upon their risk of transmission, and what you can do to make them safer:

  1. Going to a restaurant. High risk. My family won’t be eating in a restaurant for a long time to come. It’s not just whether you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, but for how long. If you’re sitting in a restaurant for a few hours in close quarters with people, the greater the likelihood that you’ll contract the virus. To reduce your risk, call ahead of time and ask the restaurant what safety precautions they’re taking. Make sure all employees are wearing masks. Some restaurants only have outdoor, socially distanced seating, which is safer than sitting in tight, enclosed spaces.
  2. Drinking at a bar. High risk. People who are drinking tend to easily let their guard down, get close to each other and not abide by COVID-19 safety guidelines. While having a drink outside is better than inside, enjoying one in your own backyard is the safest option.
  3. Hosting a backyard barbecue. Low to medium risk. Having select friends and family over in an open space isn’t too risky as long as you know they have been social distancing. Encourage people to bring their own food instead of sharing, and have everyone use their own utensils. Organizing a socially distanced picnic is also a safe option. Everyone should bring their own blankets and food, and as always, wash or sanitize your hands frequently and don’t touch your face.
  4. Singing in a choir. High risk. When you sing or speak loudly, you project airborne droplets up to 30 or 40 feet away. Choirs shouldn't meet right now, even if they’re wearing masks.
  5. Renting a vacation house. Low risk. Staying at a cottage with your family isn’t too risky, as long as you won’t be eating at restaurants or taking part in crowded activities while you’re there. Driving is better than flying. Bring snacks in the car instead of stopping to get food along the way, and when you take bathroom breaks, practice safe hand hygiene and wear a mask. Going with another family is safe as long as you know they’ve been social distancing.
  6. Traveling by plane. Medium to high risk. All airlines aren’t adhering to social distancing recommendations and leaving middle seats empty. A short flight is safer than a long flight. Wear a mask, use disinfectant wipes to clean everything on and around your seat, don’t eat or drink anything unless you brought it yourself, and practice safe hand hygiene.
  7. Swimming at the beach. Low to medium risk. COVID-19 doesn’t spread through water, so swimming itself is not an issue. But when many people are swimming in the same area and they’re breathing heavily, they can produce droplets that fly more easily. Swim in an area that’s pretty secluded. And if you’re sitting on the beach, lay out your towels and umbrellas at least six feet from other people.
  8. Visiting a hair salon. Medium risk. Call ahead to check their safety precautions. They should have guests wait in their cars until they’re ready for them, and everyone should wear masks, including the stylists, because they’re hovering closely around your head. I wouldn’t eat or drink anything there. I usually have a cup of tea when I get my hair done, but I won’t be doing that anymore.
  9. Working out at a public gym. High risk. Having an indoor gym session where people are breathing heavily is very risky. It’s best if your gym can plan for ways that people can exercise outside. (For example, try an outdoor, socially distanced yoga class.) And if you are inside, you should be in a room with all doors and windows left open.
  10. Golfing. Low risk. You can socially distance when playing golf. It gets riskier if you share golf carts with other people, so wear a mask or use your own cart, or encourage walking over carts. I wouldn’t get drinks with friends afterward unless you can do it socially distanced outside.
  11. Staying at a hotel. Low to medium risk. Call ahead and see what the hotel is doing to ensure its guests are staying safe. What cleaning have they done after the last person? Is everything electronic, so you don’t have to use shared pens or transfer money back and forth? Is everyone wearing masks? I wouldn’t go to the hotel restaurant, but order room service instead.
  12. Camping. Low risk. As long as you’re distanced from other campers, and everyone in your camping party has been cautious, camping is pretty safe. Same goes for hiking and kayaking: these outdoor activities are low risk as long as they aren’t done in big groups and you can avoid crowds.
  13. Walking or jogging outside. Low risk. Going for a walk outside, running, jogging — all of these activities are fine as long as you’re social distancing. When someone comes near you, cross the street or move away. You can go on socially distanced walks with friends, too. Everyone grab a mask and walk and talk within six feet of each other.

Whatever you decide to do this summer, here are a few things to consider before engaging in any activity: Outdoors is better than indoors, a mask is always better than none, social distancing is better than not, and hand hygiene always. And don’t be afraid to tell someone you’re not comfortable with the situation. Staying safe is the priority.

To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). 

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Dr. Allison Weinmann is an infectious disease specialist and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

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