Published on June 15, 2020

Ask an ID Doc: Practical Guidance on Reopening from Local Experts

The following piece was shared by Rebecca Smith, LMH Health VP of strategic communications and executive director of the LMH Health Foundation, in her June 15th COVID-19 update to community partners. You can subscribe to these updates here.

There was a great article in the New York Times recently - When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again. I thought it would be interesting to do our own, local version of this activity with our infectious disease physicians. I reached out to Dr. Christopher Penn and Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher to see what they were planning in the coming months. Here’s what they said.

First, the near short term. Both of our physicians agreed they’d feel comfortable engaging in the following activities in the next three months, assuming the pandemic unfolds as they expect:

  • Bring in mail without precautions
  • See a doctor for a non-urgent appointment
  • Get a haircut at a salon or barber shop
  • Hike or picnic outdoors with friends
  • Send kids to school, camp or day care
  • Work in a shared office

Note that the physicians indicated they’d wear masks during these activities. You should, too!

The docs were a bit divided as they looked to the following activities—for each of these areas, one physician tended to be a bit more conservative, saying they’d participate within 12 months, while the other was less so, saying they’d join in within 3 months:

  • Vacation overnight within driving distance
  • Attend a small dinner party
  • Eat at a dine-in restaurant

Dining in was dependent on the set up – one physician noted they’d leave if they felt it wasn’t safe. Outside dining remains a safer choice.

When it came to visiting an elderly relative or friend in their home, one physician indicated this summer would probably be okay, as long as everyone was masked, while the other said they’d wait more than a year. 

The physicians found common ground on the follow activities, though, with both indicating they’d wait one year or more to:

  • Hug or shake hands when greeting a friend
  • Stop routinely wearing a face covering
  • Attend a sporting event, concert or play

This gave me a bit of pause…a whole year without hugs, sports and live music?! Bottom line: They have a hard time seeing this in the near future. They might change course if there was a shift in herd immunity. And, they’d entertain exceptions for the World Series or a once-in-lifetime concert, as long as attendees were masked and distanced. (Thank goodness.)

Here are a few other activities you might miss, and what our docs advised:

  • Travel by airplane
    • It would depend on the situation, but I plan to avoid in general for the foreseeable future.
    • It would depend on airline enforcement of rules, which at present is poor.
  • Exercise at a gym or fitness studio
    • It depends on the individual setup, but I plan to exercise either outdoors or within my own home.
    • It would be iffy before the end of summer, and I’d probably wait even longer.
  • Attend a wedding or a funeral
    • I would attend a funeral now, depending on the person. Weddings—probably not any time soon, but it would also depend on the person and setup.
  • Attend a church or other religious service
    • A large number of people in a closed space is a bad idea…             
    • It depends on the ability to distance and others' compliance with masks.

Both physicians stressed the importance of wearing a mask and engaging in good hand hygiene, especially as the county reopens in the coming days and weeks. Remember that 20 seconds of washing is key – long enough to sing the chorus of your favorite song a couple of times. (For the record, Dr. Schrimsher prefers to say the alphabet twice, while Dr. Penn sings Pearl Jam’s “Sirens” or “Heaven” by Depeche Mode twice.) Remember to scrub ALL hand surfaces – not just your palms.

And there you have it. Many thanks to Dr. Penn and Dr. Schrimsher for taking time to provide this guidance. I hope you find it helpful!


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Ask an ID Doc: Practical Guidance on Reopening from Local Experts