Smart Strategies for Staying Safe

May 22, 2020

As communities across West Central Florida begin re-opening and the novel coronavirus is becoming better understood, strategies to stay safe are evolving, too. The risk of catching the virus and contracting COVID-19 is not an either-or proposition. With smart precautions and diligence, venturing outside your home can be done safely. 

“You can do a lot to mitigate your risk, which really is situational,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, chief medical officer for BayCare Health System. “As we navigate to a ‘new normal,’ you want to make sure you’re being mindful of the risk in each situation and responding accordingly.”

If going to a restaurant, outdoor seating is less risk than indoor setting, where air circulates less frequently.  The risk at the grocery store, where encounters are brief, is not as risky as visiting a hair salon where a stylist is in close proximity for an extended period. In a hair salon, wear a mask and ask the stylist or barber to do so as well if they aren’t already.

“Getting back to ‘normal,’ isn’t really possible until we have a vaccine, particularly for those individuals who are at high-risk, such as the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions,” Dr. Anand said. “But returning to some of our old habits can be done with precautions, including a continued practice of social distancing as much as possible.”

The virus is most contagious when exposure and duration of exposure occur simultaneously. 

Therefore, the first line of defense, in every setting, is social distancing of at least 6 feet from those outside your household. 

The second defense: Frequent hand washing. “We know that more is more when it comes to hand hygiene. The more frequently you wash your hands, the less likely the virus or other contagions will be able to infect you or others,” Dr. Anand said. 

The third defense: Wearing a mask as it keeps you from touching your mouth and nose, but also serves as a barrier that can protect others. Other situational advice includes:

Returning to work

  • Avoid any extended face-to-face contact. Take the stairs, for example, to avoid a crowded elevator.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Practice good hand hygiene all day long.
  • And in any close settings, wear a mask.

Going out to eat

  • Be sure to pick a restaurant that is respecting social distancing guidelines and whose servers are wearing masks.
  • Choose a table outside, if possible.
  • Avoid touching anything unnecessary and be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer prior to beginning your meal. 
  • Wear a mask until your food is delivered. Once your food arrives, remove your mask and place it under your napkin in your lap, being careful not to touch the outside with your hands.
  • Replace your mask after eating and be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you get up from your meal.

Going to the grocery store

  • Wear a mask. If available, use the hand sanitizer as you enter the store.
  • Honor 6-foot social distance guidelines and if available, obey the one-way rules for aisles – it will keep you out of face-to-face contact with other patrons.
  • Avoid any hand-to-hand contact with cashiers as you exchange currencies or receipts.
  • Be sure and sanitize or wash your hands upon exiting the store, ideally before getting into your car.

Going to a salon, spa or other personal service, including a medical visit

  • Call ahead to ask about additional sanitation procedures being employed, including spacing clients’ appointments to allow for additional cleaning.
  • Confirm the employee will wear a mask throughout the appointment and is screened daily for any symptoms. Ask if they also are practicing diligent hand hygiene.
  • Ask if there are any mechanisms to shorten the time spent face-to-face. Can you show up with freshly-shampooed hair for a haircut? Can you wait in your car until they are ready for you in the exam room? Can you pay up front over the phone?

Going to the gym

  • Try to go at the least crowded time, such as early morning.
  • Practice social distancing and wear a mask if close to others.
  • Wipe down equipment before and after use.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently, including making sure you do so right before you return to your car.

Going to a movie or other indoor event

  • Call ahead to make sure of social distancing is being observed.
  • Ask about turnover cleaning protocols.
  • Bring sanitizing wipes and wipe down your seat and let it dry prior to sitting down.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands as you leave.

Air travel

  • In the terminal: Don’t lean on the check-in counter. Avoid touching any surfaces possible. Be sure to wash your hands after traveling through security and use sanitizing wipes to wipe down the surfaces of any furniture you sit in prior to boarding.
  • Upon entry in the plane, wipe down every surface you could possibly touch with a sanitizing wipe and let it dry.
  • Wear a mask at all times and diligently avoid all touching of your face. Perhaps even wear glasses if it helps you to avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t eat any food with your hands. Sanitize your hands after enjoying any beverages or food that you brought or that is served.
  • Upon arriving at the destination terminal, wash your hands well before continuing on your way.

Car trips and visiting hotels

  • Wear a mask whenever around anyone that is not in your party.
  • Pack hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes and keep them at hand. Wipe down the gas pump, for example, before pumping gas.
  • Anytime you stop, be sure to wash or sanitize hands BEFORE returning to the car.
  • Call ahead to hotels and ask about their increased sanitation measures, including room turnover times. If they don’t take your question seriously, find somewhere else.
  • Wipe down hard surfaces when you get to your hotel room with sanitizing wipes or cleaner. 
  • Have everyone in the party shower daily. Put dirty clothes in a plastic bag until you can launder.
  • Avoid hotel common areas unless you take precautions to wipe down furniture. Also best to avoid hot tubs or pools.

Use of public restrooms

  • If a stranger has just exited the stall, delay entering for a few minutes.
  • If available, use a seat cover.
  • Use your foot to activate the flushing mechanism, if necessary.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Use a towel to turn off the water or open any exit doors. 

Finally, Dr. Anand believes these steps are key to helping our entire community remain safe until the time that a vaccine is available.

“We are at a fork in the road. If we return to our normal routines with little regard for safe procedures, there is a high risk the virus will come back with a vengeance,” Dr. Anand said. “I encourage us to take the other path, one where we redefine normal life to include these safety precautions so our community is safer for all of us.”