Retail stores are opening their doors, daycare facilities are caring for children, and restaurants are welcoming customers in outdoor settings. In a not-so-distant past, these activities would sound completely normal. But in the midst of a pandemic, these ordinary activities have become, well, not ordinary at all.
All across the country, including in Pennsylvania, states are slowly returning to a new normal. At one point, every US state had restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but as of May 20, all 50 states have begun to ease these restrictions in some way.
The Plan for Pennsylvania has three phases: red, yellow, and green. As counties move from one phase to the next, certain restrictions are lifted or modified, such as the allowed size of group gatherings and the opening of some businesses.
Understandably, these changes are leaving many people with concerns, such as what places may be safe and how they can continue to protect themselves from this contagious virus. And until there are things like widespread testing, systems to trace people who have come into contact with positive cases, or a vaccine, one thing remains unchanged — it’s safer to stay home as much as possible.
If you do choose to go out, it's critical to remain vigilant in protecting yourself from contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others. Here’s how to keep yourself safe as counties across Pennsylvania and the country begin to reopen.
The Basic Precautions: They're Still Important
The weather is getting warmer, businesses are slowly starting to open up — things feel semi-normal again, right? While it's easy to slip into this mindset that everything is just as it was pre-pandemic, that's simply not true, and the basic precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 don't all of a sudden disappear.
Wash Your Hands
If you don't know by now, here's the bottom line — it is critical to wash your hands frequently (even when there's not a global pandemic). Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds — especially after being in public, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
Not near a sink? No problem. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and rub it all over your hands until they feel dry.
Also, try not to touch your face, including your eyes, nose, and mouth. This is particularly important if you haven't washed your hands recently.
Maintain Your Distance
There are still many uncertainties about coronavirus, but one thing is for sure — the best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Because the virus is thought to mostly spread from person to person, it's important to maintain distance from people outside of your household.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staying 6 feet away from others, that's not necessarily a magical number. If you're able to stay further away, go ahead and do so to be safe.
Remember — people who don't show any symptoms whatsoever can still spread the virus. So if you're heading out, it's important to act as if everyone around you is able to transmit the virus, and keep your distance when possible.
Wear a Mask
Sometimes, it’s difficult to maintain distance from others, such as at the grocery store or another crowded area. While it's best to avoid these spaces when possible, you may need to buy food for dinner or pick up a prescription. This is where face-coverings come in, protecting you and the others around you.
Whether it's homemade or purchased, it's important for everyone over 2 years old and medically able to wear a mask to do so when out in public. In early April, Governor Wolf supported this recommendation by the CDC by urging all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask in public to help stop the spread of the virus.
Keep in mind, wearing a face covering doesn't mean you don't need to maintain distance from others, so make sure you keep that up even if your face is safely covered.
Stay Home If You're Sick
The days of going to work, school, or anywhere else if you're not feeling well are over (and they should never have existed to begin with). If you are sick, stay home except for when receiving medical care. Fortunately, most people who contract COVID-19 have a mild illness and are able to safely recover from the comfort of their own homes.
If you do need medical care, call ahead to let your provider know that you believe you may have COVID-19. And seek emergency care if you experience symptoms, such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- Difficulty staying awake or alert
- New confusion
- Blue-colored lips or face
Deciding Where to Go — and Where to Avoid
Many people are feeling a little stir crazy these days, and it's okay to go out every once in a while. But even if you take all the right precautions, heading outside of your home comes with risks. Consider these risks in order to decide if a place is worth going to.
For instance, going grocery shopping may be a little more pressing than dining out right now. That said, if a restaurant down the street reopens, they adhere to safety guidelines, and you feel comfortable, you may make the decision to go enjoy your favorite meal.
Beyond basic safety precautions, it's important to remain smart. If a store looks extra crowded, maybe wait a few hours. If you're able to avoid public transportation, do so. And try to keep your outings to a minimum for the time being.
Finding your new normal will take time, and it's an adjustment everyone is working through right now. Be patient, be smart, and, most importantly, be safe.
Do you have questions about protecting yourself from contracting COVID-19? Call 610-738-2300 to find a primary care provider at Chester County Hospital.
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