Risky Activities: Balancing Individuals’ Freedom and the Community’s Health
All of us have had to weigh the risks of COVID-19 with the impact that following public health guidance has on our lives. For many of us, the risks associated with COVID-19 represent a clear threat and we have accepted daily mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing as the “cost” we pay to protect ourselves and our neighbors.
Every day, our epidemiology team helps us understand just how important these actions are. Contact tracing and case investigations help our epidemiology team identify how cases are spreading. Since this pandemic barged into our community, we have noticed that outbreaks and other connected cases are typically associated with a breakdown in the COVID-19 protocols and guidance. While no public interaction is risk-free, these proven measures mitigate much of the risk so that we can continue to grocery shop, work in essential jobs, and visit our doctors’ offices. In large part, businesses and facilities that have good compliance with mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing have low levels of COVID-19 activity. Conversely, we see how this disease is spreading in gatherings where individuals are not wearing masks and following social distancing. Recent examples include private gatherings and events, congregate living settings, and workplaces that are not following the guidance.
We should all consider the risks of COVID-19. When we are dealing with a highly contagious disease, we need to think not only about the risks to ourselves, but also to those who we interact. In addition, we need to consider that we may end up spreading illness before we even realize we are sick. This is why it is important that we all reconsider our level of risk tolerance now that our communities are experiencing a very high level of COVID-19 transmission. Now more than ever, as we spend more time indoors and many of us gather to celebrate the holidays, we need to think about others.
There are many activities that are allowed under the governor’s Phase 3 reopening guidelines, but that represent high-risk activities. Examples include eating indoors at restaurants, shopping in busy areas, playing sports, and gathering with friends and family (in groups smaller than 10). I ask that you consider each of these activities as high risk. You may have heard me report that we are not seeing any substantial transmission in our schools – and that is because our schools have done a tremendous job of implementing safety measures. Alternatively, we have seen disease transmission through sports. Playing traditional sports demands that our athletes not wear masks nor social distance – which invites disease spread. Likewise, while we are permitted to eat out at restaurants, dining demands removing one’s mask and inviting disease spread. A CDC study found that individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten indoors at a restaurant. As an alternative, consider supporting your local restaurant by ordering take-out, and if you have the means, consider still tipping as if you were dining in.
With a vaccine on the horizon and cases rising dramatically, it is a critical time to consider your risk tolerance – for yourself and your community members. Reduce your risky behaviors – stay at home as much as you can, avoid gatherings with friends and family in person, if you do gather – gather safely with masks and social distancing or outdoors, wear your mask, wash your hands often, avoid eating indoors, and make plans to celebrate the holidays safely. Let us all get through the New Year as safely as we can.