7 things not to do when coronavirus lockdown and quarantine end
For most of us, life won't return to normal right away.
A phased approach to lifting lockdown restrictions has already begun in the US and around the world, but that doesn't mean the deadly coronavirus has gone away. In the US, over 79,000 people have already died from the COVID-19 disease, and the numbers are growing. We know that life will look different when cities and states reopen as local leaders attempt to restart the economy while trying to keep a second wave of coronavirus infections at bay.
As we count down the days until you can hug your friends, throw a party, file into a stadium and board an airplane, just remember that even as some restrictions loosen, that there's still much we don't know about the long-term behavior of this particular coronavirus strain.
"The worst that can happen is that we make a misstep and let our emotions get ahead of the facts, and we have to go through this again," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a daily press conference last month.
In countries and cities that are beginning to reopen, the warning is clear: If cases surge again, the lockdowns will return. Reopening society may be a little different everywhere, but here are some common-sense codes to keep in mind.
1. Don't toss out those face masks
As shopping malls and nonessential businesses begin to open, look for more coronavirus-slowing policies to go into effect, not fewer. That means social distancing, and both employees and customers wearing face masks or other face coverings. There may be a lot of other rules, too, depending on where you live and what you're doing.
Expect more sanitation stations with hand sanitizer and gloves, and a less personal experience wherever you go, like being entry if your temperature is too high or ordering at counters with plexiglass dividers between. Expect that some shopping and socializing experiences won't go back to normal for some time.
2. Don't go to the gym without a plan
Gyms and fitness centers are part of early phase reopening in some spots, but think before you grab your water bottle and lace up your shoes. You'll have to decide if you think it's safe to return so soon. Enclosed areas where people breathe the same recirculated air for long periods of time are especially high risk, and that's what gyms are.
Even if you sanitize the same common equipment between use, gyms are ripe for exchanging germs. Severely limiting the number of people in the gym at a time -- and how long they can work out -- is one approach. Requiring gym-goers to exercise with a face mask or face covering of some sort is another, which could make breathing more difficult during intense workouts. It'll be important to assess your personal risk, and risk to others.
3. Don't throw a party or hit the bars
Social distancing measures exist for a reason, and that's to slow the spread of viral transmission from people who come into close contact. Hosting a party at home or crowding into a bar when they reopen will jam people together in a room, giving any lingering coronavirus on an asymptomatic host the prime opportunity to infect others, who then could pass it along.
Even if bars reopen in your area, as they are doing in some US cities and places around the world, they'll likely do so with limited hours (e.g. closing at 11 p.m.), social distancing and limited capacity. It's up to you to be judicious about protecting your health.
"I will just remind the American people again. This is a highly contagious virus," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in an April 15 briefing. "Social gatherings, coming together, is always a chance that an asymptomatic person can spread the virus unknowingly ... But for all of you that are out there that would like to join together and just have that dinner party for 20 -- don't do it yet."
4. Don't stop washing your hands
Of course you'll continue to practice common hygiene, but remember that relaxed restrictions won't necessarily mean that the coronavirus outbreak is over, even after a vaccine eventually arrives. There may be economic reasons for schools and businesses to reopen, while the virus continues to spread, albeit at slower rates than today.
Remember that the goal of stay at home orders and thorough handwashing is to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients in critical condition and minimize your risk for acquiring life-threatening symptoms.
Hopefully, the good hand-washing habits you've acquired during this time will stick around, including longer, more thorough washing with hand soap, and more frequently after coming into contact with people and common surfaces.
5. Don't immediately visit high-risk people
There's nothing I'd rather do when quarantine ends than rush out and give the senior citizens and immunocompromised friends in my life a big, warm hug. But that might not be the best move for them. Quarantine measures are likely to loosen before the vaccine arrives that will help protect people most at risk if they do acquire COVID-19.
Though early vaccine testing is underway, an approved vaccine is still thought to be a year out, at the very least. That doesn't necessarily mean you won't see your loved ones for a full year.
Antibody testing is a promising method in development right now that could be able to tell you if you've already been exposed to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, we're not at the stage where this test -- which isn't yet available -- can confirm immunity.
For people who are in high-risk groups, keeping a healthy distance may still be the best way to keep them safe. That's something you and your family will need to carefully evaluate.
6. Don't plan a big international vacation
I've already started a mental list of every place in the world I want to visit once restrictions lift. And I've already revised it to swap in local gems, like a hiking trail and the beach, activities that are off the menu where I live. Like me, you'll have to have a little patience.
While I expect that hotel and airfare prices will be enticingly cheap when nonessential travel is first deemed acceptable again, flying on a plane it isn't likely to be a fun experience in many ways. Think: wearing masks the duration of the flight, very limited food and beverage service on long hauls and plenty of closed businesses at the airport terminals themselves. On the plus side, you'll likely have more leg room.
Intermingling is nearly impossible to avoid in airports and airplanes (though not because of the ventilation system, according to the WHO), which is one major reason flights have been canceled and international travel effectively banned in many countries.
The international movement of people contributed to the coronavirus reaching pandemic proportions so quickly, through person-to-person transmission like coughing and sneezing. If a recurrence were to happen, the last thing you want is the stress of finding yourself quarantined in an unfamiliar country, without a clear or quick way home.
7. Don't get too comfortable
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but as a global society, we can't say for certain what will happen next -- if a sudden surge in new coronavirus cases will make it necessary to reinstitute quarantine measures, as has happened in Singapore and Hong Kong, or, worse, fears of a more contagious strain come to be.
The smart thing to do is remain cautiously optimistic about regaining your freedom to move, but remain realistic that we don't know what the future holds.