Lockdown levels have begun to ease and we are now all getting back to “normal”. You probably want to get together with your friends or family for a few drinks or a meal.
Should you still be nervous about COVID-19? What can you do?
Before I address the general principles which will help you navigate the social scene safely, I would like to explain why we as doctors are still concerned about public gatherings.
As explained succinctly by Dr Thomas Tsai, a professor at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health. “It’s really hard to wear a mask in a bar. It’s hard to stay six feet apart. It’s hard to constantly wash your hands and not touch surfaces other people have touched,”
These settings, he explains, tend to lead to a breakdown of the very behaviours that help prevent new infections. It’s a dangerous mix: socializing in large groups, sometimes in tight spaces, and drinking, which lowers inhibitions and makes people less likely to adhere to wearing masks and keeping their distance. In addition, party-goers end up talking loudly, which increases the chance of spraying virus-laden particles on others, especially indoors.
With the above mentioned in mind, here are some general principles to follow to help you to navigate safely:
- If you are considered high risk, the best is to avoid bars and restaurants altogether. There are plenty of other social activities to consider, which will not pose as high a risk to you of contracting the virus.
- Choose a bar/restaurant that has an outside area. It is better than being in a crowded indoor area for the obvious reason of air movement and ventilation.
- If you do end up indoors , it would be best to assess air ventilation and quality. A well ventilated room has a fresh air supply with good air movement (i.e. open windows/doors). This bears repeating because good ventilation is a very important factor in decreasing transmission of the virus.
- Try to keep the numbers of your party to a minimum. If you limit your gatherings to a few close friends, the environment becomes easier to control in terms of people sitting too close together and being able to adequately social distance. YES you are still required to social distance -at least 1.5m from one another.
- Ensure that you have sanitizer on you (a mini bottle in your pocket or handbag will suffice). Use it often!! ESPECIALLY when using shared surfaces. Where possible, wash your hands.
- DO NOT SHARE YOUR FOOD/DRINK/UTENSILS/CIGARETTES.
- And as for the most common question asked. “But how do I wear a mask while eating/drinking?” The answer is that you do NOT. It is impossible to eat or drink with a mask on. When your mask is off, be extra-vigilant about social distancing. This is why some countries have instituted rules that enforce being seated at a table when eating or drinking. However when you are not actively eating or drinking, PLEASE WEAR YOUR MASK. Take a clean plastic container or plastic/paper bag to store your mask in when you remove it.
- Don’t drink excessively. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it less likely that you will end up wearing your mask and socially distancing.
As for night clubs, many are indoors in poorly ventilated spaces and can get very crowded and therefore pose a high risk. If you are at high risk for severe COVID-19 OR you live with someone who is a high risk candidate, clubs should be avoided.
Hopefully these navigation tips will help you have a safe social gathering/event and reduce your anxiety about going out.