These summer activities put you at the highest risk of spreading or catching COVID-19

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Monday, July 20, 2020
How risky are these summer activities amid COVID-19?
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How risky are these summer activities amid COVID-19?

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the height of summer approaches, COVID-19 cases continue to ramp up across North Carolina and the United States.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

Under phase 2, North Carolinians are allowed to patronize restaurants, with some restrictions, attend weddings and funerals, and swim at public pools. Some businesses, like bars, skating rinks, bowling alleys, movie theatres and gyms are still closed. In addition, public playgrounds are closed as well.

But as families begin to embark on summer activities, ABC11 asked Duke Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lisa Pickett the relative risks of these activities, and how your summer plans may put your family more at risk of COVID-19.

Pool, beach or lake day with friends - Low Risk

Pickett said a pool or beach day with friends would be a low risk activity--as long as proper social distancing measures are in place. For example, every person should bring their own bottle of sunscreen, snacks and drinks to avoid sharing, and any utensils or coolers that are shared should be frequently wiped with a sanitizing cloth. Of course, masks should be worn when not swimming.

Pickett added that swimming itself is a low risk activity, however, standing in the pool and talking, shouting or laughing involves more risk of viral spread through the air than actively swimming laps.

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In addition, if going to the lake, while boating may be fairly safe in terms of COVID-19 risk (she added that wearing a life vest is important!), she said to use caution when standing on the dock and going to public areas, like bathrooms, food stands, check-in points and shops.

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Backyard BBQ with another household or group of friends - Medium Risk

Just like a day of outdoor fun with friends, an outdoor BBQ is as risky as you make it, Pickett said. However, the added danger of a BBQ is that masks can't be worn when eating.

"You have to keep your guest size small, so that you can spread out around the grass or backyard or patio," Pickett said. She also recommended each family or person bringing their own food and utensils, and wiping down any shared containers between people.

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Hiking, running, biking alone or with others - Low Risk

Pickett said for the most part, hiking, biking and running can be done safely because it's easy to social distance, especially while working out alone. However, she encouraged hikers to bring their masks for places where the trail narrows, and it may be more difficult to social distance from others.

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She also said walking past another person is not necessarily risky, but if there are a lot of people around, it's always good to bring a mask.

"If you're going to be in a crowded area, it would be wise to wear a mask during that."

Going shopping - Medium to High Risk

While many are anxious to start shopping at local retail stores again, Pickett warned that shoppers should be thoughtful and careful.

"Keep hand sanitizer with you, always wear a face covering, and perhaps even bring some wipes if you have to push a cart or carry a basket," Pickett said. She also said that stopping in a food court for a bite to eat would make shopping a higher risk activity, so she advised making sure you are six feet from others before taking off your face covering to eat.

She also said that if you try on clothes in a dressing room, make sure you use hand sanitizer and wash your hands after touching the door and clothes. Pickett added that people in high-risk categories for severe COVID-19 infections probably shouldn't try on clothes in a dressing room for a while.

Going out to eat - Medium to High Risk

Pickett again said any time a face covering comes down, the risk for COVID-19 spread increases. So eating in a restaurant, especially if tables are close to one another, can be a high-risk activity. She also said restaurant patrons should wash their hands after touching the table or anything around them.

However, when given the choice of indoor or outdoor seating, Pickett said sitting on a patio is much less risky than dining indoors.

"I think as long as the weather is nice, you're better off outside," Pickett said, adding that high-risk individuals should probably avoid dining in for the time being and continue to use takeout and delivery options.

Outdoor Fitness Classes - Low to Medium Risk

With gyms still closed, many North Carolinians and fitness centers have turned to outdoor workouts. And the good news is, Pickett said those are fine--as long as certain precautions are in place.

"As long as it's an activity that allows you to be six to eight feet apart outdoors, I think that would be fine," Pickett said. "If there's any reason that you might be a bit closer, always having your face covering on is important."

Because people have the potential to spread the virus further while breathing heavily or shouting, Pickett said workout class participants should make sure they are accounting for social distancing--even spreading past six feet--and wearing masks while signing in, parking and as much during the class as possible.

Going to a hotel or staying in a rental unit - Medium Risk

Pickett said staying in a hotel is a medium risk activity and recommended washing hands frequently, bringing hand sanitizer, wiping down any surfaces in the room with cleansing wipes, making sure children wash their hands frequently, and wearing face masks in common areas.

Air travel - High risk

Pickett said traveling by plane is much more risky than traveling by car, because planes make it harder to social distance. If it is essential that you travel somewhere by plane, Pickett recommended bringing hand sanitizer, wearing a face covering--as many airlines have required--and cleansing your seat area with cleaning wipes.

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Staying in a vacation house or rental with another family - Medium Risk

As some rental companies refuse to give refunds for plans canceled due to COVID-19, many may be hesitant to cancel their beach vacation plans with extended family or friends. However, Pickett said the vacation can proceed safely, as long as those involved social distance, wear face coverings and children wash hands frequently. However, of course, Pickett said if some of the family members are high risk, that makes the situation less safe for those particular family members.

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Pickett said if the families staying in the same home had both quarantined the recommended two weeks before the trip, that drops the risk level. As with many activities, she said, it is a function of how much risk each person is willing to assume.

"I think you have to decide who your family is, and if you're combining families and you felt very comfortable with the risks the other family has elected to take or not take, and with the practices that you agreed upon, then you become a new family for that week," Pickett said.

Camping - Low Risk

"I think camping sounds like a great idea this year," Pickett said.

Camping, Pickett said, makes it easy to stay six feet apart from others, though she did still recommend the usual precautions--washing hands and wearing face coverings, especially at check-in points, in public bathrooms and on crowded trails.

Pickett also specifically recommended avoiding common areas like playgrounds--which are closed under the Safer-At-Home order in North Carolina. And of course, while in nature, watch out for ticks.

Going to a Wedding - Medium Risk

As long as guests are spread out at the ceremony, Pickett said, summer weddings are safe to attend. She did, however, recommend keeping the gathering limited to the state's guidelines of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, and of course, wearing a face covering.

"You may be likely to cheer, clap, sing or talk loudly, and we want to keep everybody safe, especially the bride and groom on this beautiful occasion," Pickett said.

However, she added that traveling to a wedding--especially one where you would have to get on a plane to attend--would be a higher risk activity. She recommended waiting to watch trends--both at home and at the wedding's location--before committing to attend.

Going on dates - Medium Risk

Especially after the quarantine, many people may be looking to strike up a new romance over the summer. However, Pickett said eating in a restaurant with someone you don't know could be risky. Instead, she recommended going on a hike or a walk for a first date--something where you can stay socially distant--especially if you don't know the other person well and aren't sure if they've been staying at home.

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Overnight summer camps - High Risk

As several day camps report COVID-19 outbreaks, Pickett said sending your child to an overnight camp may be an even riskier activity.

"I think parents are going to have to make decisions about the safety practices that each camp puts into place, and then their child's particular health risks."

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