There is no question that if you have been infected by the novel coronavirus or have symptoms of the COVID-19 illness, you should not leave your home unless directed otherwise. But if you have no symptoms or reason to believe you’ve been exposed, you don’t have to lock yourself in your home.
In the U.S. and globally, health authorities are advising people to practice “social distancing” to contain the spread of the virus by staying about 6 feet away from each other, skipping large social gatherings, and working from home (if they can). Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people across New York state on Thursday.
These policies can help slow the spread of the virus by reducing person-to-person contact, but isolating for extended periods could trigger heightened levels of depression and anxiety.
As people seek ways to safely leave their homes, here are some do’s and don’ts of venturing into public, and precautions you can take to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Should you go to the gym or yoga class?
The gym is an escape from stress and anxiety for millions of people on a daily basis. But an emerging source of anxiety is stepping foot in that very place.
Perspiration alone cannot transmit COVID-19, Dr. David Thomas, a professor of medicine and director of the infectious-diseases division of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the New York Times.
What can, however, are certain surfaces.
By some estimates, the coronavirus can live on metal, glass and plastic surfaces for up to nine days. And that could include free weights, treadmills and other exercise equipment.
Fitness centers nationwide are stepping up cleaning efforts by disinfecting mats and equipment more frequently.
305 Fitness, a Zumba chain that features a DJ in classes in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, sent an email on March 3 encouraging customers to call studios in advance if they aren’t feeling well, promising to be “extra flexible in returning class credits and waiving late cancellation/no-show fees.”
The gym chain has stopped using any equipment such as weights and mats in cardio classes, Sam Karshenboym, chief operating officer at 305 Fitness, said. The cleaning crew is disinfecting locker rooms, door handles and other points of contact more frequently.
“We’re also asking customers to trade fist pumps and high fives with instructors before class for a Charleston kick or a booty bump,” the gym’s message to customers said.
305 Fitness has also halved the size of its classes. In New York City it has limited classes to approximately 15 people, Karshenboym said. “We have also introduced at-home cardio classes, so clients can still get a piece of 305 [even] if they can’t make it to the studio.”
That said, it may be a good idea to bring your own equipment to classes that require it. It’s also worthwhile to call in advance and ask what products your fitness center is using to disinfect surfaces. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of over 300 cleaning products it believes to be effective as coronavirus fighters.
It may also be safer to avoid tightly packed classes or attend the gym at off-peak hours given that the virus spreads more easily among people standing within about 6 feet of one another, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Saturday, 305 Fitness informed customers by email that it would temporarily close all locations for two weeks. “305 leadership is forgoing salary so that we can better financially support our team of instructors, DJs, and managers during this difficult time,” stated an email. “Social distancing is an act of solidarity right now. If we take preventative measures early, we can get back on our feet faster.”
Should you go to a movie?
In China, where the virus originated, the government ordered the closure of the nation’s 70,000 movie theaters. In Italy, where there were more than 21,000 cases of coronavirus as of Saturday afternoon, virtually all businesses have shut down. The same has occurred in France, where there were over 3,600 cases as of Saturday afternoon. Before the shut down movie theaters in France were only allowed to reach 50% capacity, according to CNBC.
Movies theaters in the U.S. could temporarily shut down in the coming days, a source described as familiar with the matter reportedly told the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious-disease epidemiologist with the World Health Organization who studied COVID-19 for two weeks in China, found that the virus spread more readily to people living with someone who had COVID-19 than through communal spread. However, when communal spread occurs, movie theaters and public transit are prime virus-transmission venues, she told STAT News.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a movie-theater chain where moviegoers can eat and drink during the show with 37 locations in the U.S., told customers via email that it was “sanitizing seat armrests, cup holders, and tables during theater cleanings before every show.” Staff is required to wear latex gloves when serving customers and cleaning the facilities.
In California, public gatherings are capped at 250 people. Alamo’s theater in New Mission, Calif., is the only location in the state that can hold more than 250 people. Alamo “deactivated sections of seats” at that theater, Alamo’s CEO and founder, Tim League, said in a note to customers posted online.
“Furthermore, we are requesting that all parties leave an empty seat between their group and other parties,” League said. “If you don’t have an empty seat, you can see a manager who can move you to one of the empty sections.”
The chain declined to comment further on additional precautions being taken in the handling of food.
Should you take the subway?
People who travel via public transportation are more at risk of being infected with an acute respiratory infection than people who bike, walk or drive in their own cars. That’s according to a 2011 study published in the BMC Infectious Diseases, a peer-reviewed infectious-disease medical journal.
The study found a significant connection between contracting an acute respiratory infection and traveling by bus or train five days before the onset of symptoms.
That said, not all workers are able to work from home and many who can’t will need to use public transportation to get to work. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which serves 8 million customers a day in the greater New York City area, said employees are disinfecting trains, subways and buses twice a day.
“Good hygiene remains the best defense against COVID-19,” said Patrick Warren, MTA chief safety officer. “The MTA has continued its disinfecting efforts, making sure those common touch points at stations, trains and buses are disinfected. We also ask our customers to redouble their hygiene efforts, stay home if you are sick, and follow the messaging we have up at our stations.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio advised New Yorkers to plan “to have some extra travel time in your commute,” adding that “if the train that pulls up is too packed, move to a different car or wait to take the next one. Bike or walk to work if you can.”
Should you get a haircut or facial?
Hair and nail salons and barbershops are all linked to high risks of infections of various types, according to research from the American College of Gastroenterology.
Even before COVID-19 began spreading, studies show an increased likelihood of getting a fungal or skin infection from tools such as nail clippers, scissors and brushes that are not discarded after being used.
In response to the pandemic, Sephora LVMH, +4.03% informed customers that it would suspend all in-store beauty services including skin-care and makeup applications. Ulta Beauty Inc. ULTA, +4.29% hasn’t suspended these services across all stores, but it said it encourages customers to reschedule appointments, especially if they aren’t feeling well.
Both companies declined to comment on any additional precautions they’re taking at this time.
One New York City–based barber shop, Otis & Finn, sent an email to customers informing them that they could cancel any appointment at any time. “Per our policy, barbers always wash their hands after every client, and we encourage our clients to feel free to use the sinks and soaps in the common area of the shop to wash their hands as well (in addition to the soaps made available in the bathroom),” the email stated.
Shawn Dixon, owner of all three Otis & Finn locations, said, “We were really prepared for this [coronavirus] because we place a high value on keeping our shop clean at all times.” He added that “even to be a barber you need to pass health and safety tests in hygiene, which is helpful because they already know how to properly clean.”
Shawn Dixon, owner of the barber-shop chain Otis & Finn, with partner Kirk Riley, who is a barber at Otis & Finn.
Dixon added that he has always encouraged barbers to avoid working when they aren’t feeling well.
“Some barber shops think a dirty place is part of culture, but that’s never been the case for us,” Dixon said. He said he can only recall getting two calls this week from clients asking about the cleaning measures barbers are taking. Most customers are “mainly just asking if we are open.”
Is it safe to eat out at a restaurant?
Coronavirus is not a food-borne illness, said food-safety expert Benjamin Chapman, a professor at North Carolina State University. This means that someone cannot transmit coronavirus by touching the crust of your pizza.
“The risk is food settings,” Chapman said. “If someone was sick and walked into a store and coughed on the handles of self-serve buffet utensil and you then touch your face, you could get coronavirus.” Because of that risk, it is increasingly more important to be mindful of what you touch in these settings and make sure to wash your hands before you eat.
Chapman said he has been going to all the same eateries he went to before the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S. He is, he said, more mindful of touching salt shakers and menus.
Amid the outbreak, some people are avoiding going to restaurants and eateries they would normally visit and instead are stocking up on nonperishable foods like oat milk and relying more heavily upon Amazon AMZN, +6.46% and other delivery services.
That’s hurting small businesses like Sushirrito, a sushi burrito chain with six locations in San Francisco. Even though Peter Yen, founder and CEO of Sushirrito, began offering 20% off delivery orders last week, he said business has been so sluggish that he may have to temporarily shut down store locations.
For the time being, all six Sushirrito shops remain open. His staff has been given a refresher course on maintaining sanitary conditions, and he has added more hand sanitizer for customers to use.
“First, we took a big hit when all the big tech companies began asking employees to work from home, [and] then all the conferences canceled, which reduced tourism, so it knocked out a big source of sales,” Yen told MarketWatch. “My business relies on foot traffic and catering for big offices, and since all that has died we decided to just focus on deliveries.”
“Hungry and stuck indoors?” read the subject of a recent email Sushirrito sent to customers. “We know many of you are working from home or hunkering down in the office, so we want to continue to be there for you with our food delivery service. For the month of March, get a 20% discount on deliveries to ensure you’re well fed!”
Peter Yen, founder and CEO of Sushirrito
“Part of me feels like it’s a little bit of an overreaction,” Yen said of the response to the outbreak. He wishes, he said, that people would make more of an effort to support their local businesses.