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CDC’s COVID guidelines for going out: face masks, distancing and planning ahead

The updated guidelines encourage carrying with you a face mask, tissues and hand sanitizer.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The updated guidelines encourage carrying with you a face mask, tissues and hand sanitizer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated COVID-19 pandemic guidelines on Friday to help people reduce their risk of either contracting or spreading the infection.

The guidelines include specific safety recommendations for individuals who are considering leaving their homes to run errands and resume some daily activities, such as going to a bank, a restaurant, a gym or a library, as well for people who want to travel overnight or host a barbecue or other gathering for their family and friends.

It also includes recommendations for government officials and other organizers of large events and gatherings.

The updated guidelines come as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are climbing in areas across the country, likely due to the easing of social distancing policies, which began several weeks ago. Those rising numbers, which may surge further in the wake of the protests of the past few weeks, are causing growing concern among health officials.

“I know people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, in a press briefing on Friday. “However, it’s important that we remember the situation is unprecedented and the pandemic has not ended.”

Localities may once again need to re-establish strict shelter-in-place policies and order stores and other venues to shut down if case counts increase “dramatically,” as they did last March, added Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases.

Keep vigilant

The updated guidelines urge individuals to continue to be vigilant about protecting themselves — and others. That means wearing cloth face coverings in public, not touching your face with unwashed hands, washing your hands often, practicing physical distancing, monitoring yourself for COVID-19 symptoms and staying home if showing any symptoms.

It also means being aware of how COVID-19 is spreading in your community — and understanding your personal risk. The guidelines recommend asking yourself the following before leaving the house to do errands or other activities: “Will you have a potential close contact with someone who is sick or anyone who is not wearing a face covering (and may be asymptomatic)?” and “Are you at increased risk of severe illness?”

“Activities are safer if you can maintain at least 6 feet of space between you and others, because COVID-19 spreads easier between people who are within 6 feet of each other,” the guidelines state. “Indoor spaces with less ventilation where it might be harder to keep people apart are more risky than outdoor spaces. Interacting without wearing cloth face coverings also increases your risk.”

If you don’t know what steps a store, bank, restaurant or other venue is taking to keep customers safe, then call ahead or check the place’s website to find out. And carry with you a face mask, tissues and hand sanitizer.

“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” the guidelines warn.

Specific tips

Here is a partial list of some of the other, more specific precautions the CDC recommends when venturing out:

Going to the bank:

  • Use drive-thru banking services, automated teller machines (ATM), or mobile banking apps for routine transactions that do not require face-to-face assistance as much as possible.
  • Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol after any deposit, withdrawal, exchange, drive-thru visit, or use of an ATM.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you arrive home or to your destination where a restroom is available.

Dining at a restaurant:

  • Take precautions — like wearing a cloth face covering as much as possible when not eating and maintaining a proper social distance if you are dining with others who don’t live with you.
  • Ask about options for self-parking to remove the need for a valet service.
  • Maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more in any entryway, hallway, or waiting area.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting the restaurant. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • When possible, sit outside at tables spaced at least 6 feet apart from other people.
  • When possible, choose food and drink options that are not self-serve to limit the use of shared serving utensils, handles, buttons, or touchscreens.

Working out a gym:

  • Maintain at least 6 feet of separation as much as possible in areas that may lead to close contact (within 6 feet) among other people, such as weight rooms, group fitness studios, pools and saunas, courts and fields, walking/running tracks, locker rooms, check-in areas, parking lots, and routes of entry and exit.
  • Ensure equipment is clean and disinfected. Wipe down machines and equipment with disinfecting wipes and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol before using machines.
  • Do not share items that cannot be cleaned, sanitized, or disinfected between use, such as resistance bands and weightlifting belts.
  • Wear a cloth face covering when interacting with other people to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. … Wearing cloth face coverings is most important when physical distancing is difficult and when exercise type and intensity allows. Consider doing any vigorous-intensity exercise outside when possible and stay at least 6 feet away from other participants, trainers, and clients if unable to wear a face covering.

Hosting gatherings or cook-outs:

  • Remind invited guests to stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or are showing COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who has had close contact with a person who has COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health. Invited guests who live with those at higher risk should also consider the potential risk to their loved ones.
  • Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated (for example, open a window).
  • Wear cloth face coverings when less than 6 feet apart from people or indoors.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting social gatherings. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. People from the same household can be in groups together and don’t need to be 6 feet apart – just 6 feet away from other families.
  • Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks.
  • If serving any food, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, and condiments, so that multiple people are not handling the items.
  • Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible.
  • If planning activities for adults and/or kids, consider those where social distancing can be maintained, like sidewalk chalk art or frisbee.
  • Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
  • Make sure there is adequate soap or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available in the restrooms and encourage guests not to form a line at the door. Consider also providing cleaning supplies that allow guests to wipe down surfaces before they leave.
  • Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so guests do not share a towel.
  • Consider keeping a list of guests who attended for potential future contract tracing.

FMI: You can read all of the updated guidelines on the CDC’s website.

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