North Carolinians have been dealing with COVID-19 in the state for nearly a year, and many have found ways to modify their lives to enjoy new experiences while staying safe from the virus. And though many associate the winter months with indoor activities, experts say there is fun to be had both indoors and outdoors while taking into account COVID-19 risk, especially as new strains pop up in North Carolina.
"Winter months do make it harder with the weather to plan activities that are safe," said Dr. Lisa Pickett, chief medical officer of Duke University Hospital. "We're fortunate that we don't have the extreme range of cold, so any activity that could be done outside would be ideal."
And, if you have to be indoors, Pickett advised thinking about ways to make activities safer--wearing a mask or sitting further apart.
Skiing or a ski resort vacation - Low Risk
Because skiing is an outdoor activity that doesn't typically involve people being too close together, Pickett said this winter activity could be low risk for COVID-19 transmission.
"You just have to think about how you travel there, and if it's with people you don't live with, travel separately or sit far apart in the same car with masks on and windows tipped down," Pickett said. "And once there, eating needs to be apart, or at different times."
She also advised only staying in a room with people who live in your immediate household and checking in with your hotel or guest house host ahead of time to understand how they are cleaning rooms and common areas.
Indoor ice skating - Low Risk
As long as rinks aren't overcrowded, Pickett said ice skating could be a safe activity from a COVID standpoint.
"And as you enter and exit, of course, when you're waiting to pay and things like that, wearing your mask and standing six feet apart and cleaning your hands after touching the place to pay or your shoes."
Sledding with neighbors and friends - Low Risk
While North Carolina hasn't seen a true snow day yet, Pickett said there's a way for kids to enjoy sledding with friends while staying safe.
"I think you talk to your neighbors about ways to do that safely," Pickett said. "It can definitely be done."
She advised wearing a mask at all times and standing as far apart as possible from others--especially if you're taking your mask down to drink hot cocoa.
Valentine's date night - Low/Medium Risk
After 11 months of eating at the kitchen table, you and your partner may be looking for a change of scenery for Valentine's Day.
The safest option, Pickett said, is to grab takeout from your favorite restaurant and take it on a hike for a different kind of eating ambiance.
"But some people do want that romantic evening meal, and I think you can call ahead to that restaurant that you love to go to and ask how they're planning this," Pickett said. She advised asking whether tables are more than six feet apart, if servers wear masks and if they have best practices in place to keep the spread of COVID-19 low.
"Everyone has to look at what their health risk is, and if they're really vulnerable, this may not be the time for that, but if they're healthier and think this is a reasonable risk, I think there's some ways to go about that," Pickett said.
Going to the movies - Medium Risk
Though movie theatres are open to 30% capacity in North Carolina, Pickett advised checking ahead to make sure people are being seated far apart and masks are enforced. She added that renting out a full screen for friends and family could make the situation safer, because then you would know everyone in the room and could make sure safety protocols are being followed.
"There are also drive-in movies that you could attend in a car with just the people you live with," Pickett said. "I think that would be even safer."
Working out in a Gym - Medium Risk
Assuming gyms are following Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order requiring clients to wear masks at all times while working out, Pickett said gyms could be a moderate risk activity.
"I think the practices of your gym are going to be really important," Pickett said. "If you have a good understanding of the gym that you're going to, and they space people out and everyone wears their mask--and they hold people accountable to that--and clean down the devices that might be touched in between, that would be a moderate risk activity."
She added that everyone should measure their own vulnerability and take into account their own health risks.
Bonfire with friends - Medium Risk
As long as everyone involved wears masks and people in different households sit more than six feet apart, Pickett said a bonfire night could be a fun and safe way to enjoy a cold winter night. She added that masks should only be removed to take a quick sip of a beverage or a bite of a s'more.
"You're outdoors with lots of fresh air," Pickett said. "I think that could be done very safely."
Super Bowl/March Madness parties - Medium/High Risk
While throwing your usual Super Bowl blowout isn't advised this year, Pickett offered two suggestions to watch the Bucs and the Chiefs.
"If you really want to get together with a lot of people, it's just going to have to be virtual or some way outside," Pickett said.
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Otherwise, she said watching indoors with one other family could be a moderate risk, as long as both families sit on opposite sides of the room and keep their masks on always except to take a bite or a sip of Super Bowl fare.
"You can have a good time one way or the other, you just have to decide," Pickett said.
Board game night - High Risk
Though a board game may seem like a laid-back way to spend a cold weekend night, Pickett advised playing virtual games with friends over video chat instead.
"I think board games are hard with people outside your home because you simply have to be really close together for a really prolonged period of time," Pickett said.
If you want to gather in person, she added, you could play an electronic game where people can spread out on opposite sides of a room or different ends of a home.
Indoor Sports - High Risk
Pickett advised taking sports such as basketball, football or bowling outside as much as possible.
"I wouldn't say no, but certainly no one in a higher risk category should be doing something so close together with people they don't live with," Pickett said.
If you do choose to play indoor sports, she added, wear a mask and wash hands or use hand sanitizer after touching common surfaces or borrowed shoes.
Indoor Fitness Classes - High Risk
While going to the gym could be a medium-risk activity, Pickett said she would advise against indoor fitness classes like yoga or kickboxing for the time being.
"I'm a little concerned about people being indoors because if the space is not very large you probably can't be far enough away from each other," Pickett said.
She added that people probably need to be further apart than six feet if they are breathing heavily in a contained space.
Pickett suggested trying outdoor fitness classes where available, despite the cold, adding that could be much safer.
Pickett said she herself is enjoying revisiting some of the hikes she did in the summer and seeing the way the landscape has changed.
She added that she's been enjoying Zoom and FaceTime hangouts with friends and family--even baking together over the phone--and distanced, masked gatherings with friends on the front porch.
"I think there are lots of ways to be connected, and knowing that this is going to be a year of transitions, and by the end of this year I hope we're in a much different place," Pickett said.