Ashita S. Batavia, MD, MSc, is a board-certified infectious diseases specialist and public health expert with extensive experience in epidemics, including the H1N1 outbreak. She lives with her family in Westchester County, N.Y., near the coronavirus containment zone in New Rochelle, where the disease first appeared in New York state. She works at Lawrence Hospital NYPH-Columbia, where the second COVID-19 case in New York was diagnosed.
Here are some of the questions she hears every day from friends and neighbors who are concerned about keeping their families safe:
Can my kids have playdates? What if they’re with neighbors they play with all the time?
Unfortunately, no. Social distancing is our best chance at curbing this epidemic; it means minimizing our in-person interactions with anyone outside our home. Children can be infected and can spread COVID-19 to others, including adults, for several days before they show symptoms. Symptoms in children are typically mild but can pose life-threatening risks to more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.
Can I take my kids to the playground?
Unfortunately, no. In a crowded playground, it is nearly impossible to keep a safe distance of 6 to 10 feet from others. In less frequented areas, playground equipment is still used by multiple individuals and cannot be effectively sterilized and the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days. The only exception is playground equipment in your yard if it is not used by anyone outside your home.
Can I still take walks outside?
Yes, you can take walks outdoors, sit on your porch, or kick a ball around, as long as you are at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in your home.
However, people who may have COVID-19 based on symptoms (regardless of whether or not it was confirmed), or who have been exposed to an infected person should self-isolate and limit their interactions with others, including members of their family. That means stay in one room, if possible use a different bathroom, and wash hands before and after handling items that others will touch, such as plates of food. If they must enter a shared space, they should wear a mask to reduce the risk of transmission.
Can our nanny/babysitter/piano teacher/cleaner still come?
Unfortunately, no. Only people living with you should be entering your home at this time. People can spread COVID-19 to others before they show symptoms. Please consider video playdates or virtual lessons for your children. Household work such as childcare and cleaning should be done by members of the household only. The only exception is for essential workers (e.g., health care staff, law enforcement, grocery store employees) seeking childcare or eldercare arrangements while they serve their communities. If you are able, please consider continuing to pay people you employ your home while they are unable to work. The pandemic is causing widespread financial hardship.
Is it safe to go to the grocery store or pharmacy?
If you are healthy and haven't been exposed to anyone with COVID-19, then it is OK to shop for essential items like groceries and medication. Try to visit stores at off-peak times, wipe down cart handles with sterilizing wipes, and spend a minimum of time inside. If feasible, buy necessities in larger quantities to limit the number of trips. Try to keep 6 to 10 feet from others while you shop and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
I’m young and healthy, this is unlikely to affect me. Can I still go to the gym?
Unfortunately, no. It is difficult to adequately sterilize gym equipment between uses and close proximity to others outside your home is strongly discouraged. Consider going for a walk or run outdoors if you can maintain 6 to 10 feet distance from others. In-home exercise, such as yoga or pilates, are safe alternatives and a number of streaming services/apps can provide guidance.
Which is safer, takeout or delivery?
The risk with both is minimal, but not zero. COVID-19 may live on certain surfaces for many hours or days, so it's theoretically possible to get it by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth or nose. Please wash your hands before and after handling takeout containers. If you opt for delivery, consider asking for the items to be left on your doorstep to minimize face-to-face interactions from closer than 6 to 10 feet. Please consider tipping generously to support your local businesses and the delivery personnel that are putting themselves at risk.
What can I do to help?
There are lots of ways to support your community:
Share your knowledge with others and empower them to act responsibly and reduce their risk of being infected with coronavirus.
If you have elderly and vulnerable (e.g., immunocompromised or with chronic conditions) neighbors: Call or schedule videoconferences with elderly neighbors who may be feeling isolated or frightened. If you live in an area with home delivery of groceries, help them set up an account to reduce their exposure to others. Consider shopping on their behalf. Leave items on their doorstep to avoid face-to-face contact. Remember, this is to protect them as well as you.
If you have unused supplies that can be used for personal protective equipment (e.g., dust or painters’ masks or face shields) consider donating them to a nearby hospital. Call ahead to check what they need and can accept.
In areas where businesses are still operating, consider helping by buying gift certificates for services that you can use after the pandemic has ended — e.g. from nail salons, hairdressers or pet-care facilities. Or order items online locally and spread the word in your community. We are all in this together.
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