How Can I Social Distance Safely as Canada Reopens?

As parks, beaches and campgrounds reopen across Canada, Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains how to safely navigate COVID-19 this summer.

social distance safely outside - covid-19Source: Shutterstock

Ask An Expert: As Canada Starts to Reopen This Summer, How Can I Social Distance Safely?

Reader’s Digest Canada: After a long lockdown, things have started to open up across Canada, but we still need to keep a distance. Have we learned anything new about exactly how much distance? Is it still two metres?

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch: That number is somewhat arbitrary, but it was chosen because it’s reasonable, it works and it’s easy to remember. In many parts of Europe, they’re staying 1.5 metres apart. In the United States, they say six feet apart. These are not identical distances, but they all do the job.

The key point is for people to spread apart from other people when they’re out of the house. And when they’re not in a position to practice physical distancing, they should strongly consider wearing a mask.

I’ve noticed people are often wearing their masks around their necks, and then putting them back on when they feel like it’s needed. Is it safe to be doing that?

When people are out and about, they might be touching surfaces around them—getting in and out of a store, for example. They should be mindful of that as they may infect themselves unintentionally by touching their face while they’re adjusting their mask. The best thing is for people to sanitize their hands before they put their mask on and after they take it off, so it’s helpful to have some hand sanitizer nearby to make that more convenient.

Now that it’s warm out, we may head out to a park or a beach and discover a crowd when we arrive. If that’s the case, should we stay or leave?

It’s important to have situational awareness. Look at the environment around you. Are you comfortable with it? If not, it’s always okay to take ten steps back. If it’s not aligned with your perception or tolerance of risk, then leave. It’s the same at the grocery store. There might be an aisle that has a lot of people in it. Go down a different aisle and come back later when there’s fewer people in that aisle.

Some cities are painting circles in parks to help people keep distance. Do you think that’s effective?

Certainly the circles might help people have more situational awareness and adhere to physical distancing measures. Is it going to be effective 100 per cent of the time? Of course not. But I think it’s helpful and I’m always supportive of inexpensive, potentially high-yield interventions.

What other measures can cities take that may help?

There’s been a lot of chatter about increasing public spaces in urban environments. So rather than have crowded sidewalks, cities would close some streets to traffic and make more room for pedestrians.

What outdoor activities are the safest?

The risk of transmitting this infection outside is very, very low. So anything that involves being physically distant from other people is safe—going for walks or a jog, hanging out in a park with friends or family. Remember, though, just because you’re outside, it doesn’t mean you won’t touch high-contact surfaces. So you should still have hand sanitizer with you.

What about playing tennis, badminton or throwing a frisbee—games where you can be distant, but there are objects passed between people?

The risk is small, but not zero. With badminton and tennis, I’ve heard of people making sure that each participant has birdies or balls that only they touch. Golf is another activity where you can spread apart from other people and you’re not touching the same high-contact surfaces.

Some people might want to rent a place away from home to get a change of scenery. How safe is that?

Well, the first step is to find out if you’re allowed to, because the rules of where you’re living might be different from the rules of where you’re thinking of renting. It’s likely low risk, and can be done in a safe manner if you practice physical distancing, wash your hands and use a mask when necessary. But keep in mind that we’re living in a time where the risk is never going to be zero per cent. If you’re at a greater risk of having a severe infection, and if the place you want to go is an area with a higher rate of transmission, you might think twice about going.

Should I make sure the place I’m renting is empty for a certain amount of time before I show up?

The virus can live on surfaces from anywhere between two hours and two days, so you should take that into consideration. That said, there are easy ways to disinfect high-contact surfaces with commercial cleaning products that will reduce the risk. However, you do still have to get there. You might need to fill your car with gas or take public transportation. You’ll have to buy groceries or get food from a restaurant. You’re still interacting with the world around you.

We know that this infection can be transmitted by people who are not showing overt signs or symptoms. Some people have more difficulty with uncertainty than other people. You might ask yourself whether the holiday is going to be filled more with concern than enjoyment—in which case, it may not be worth it.

And what about camping? Heading into the Canadian bush must be one of the safest things to do right now.

It is a low-risk setting—you’re outside, probably with the same group of people that live under your roof at home. But again, to go camping you might need to get gas, or go to the store to get some supplies. But you can do it safely, abide by the local rules and laws in place and have a wonderful time.

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