Need to Navigate Public Spaces During the Pandemic? Here Are Some Safety Tips

By David GallagherLast Updated Dec 1, 2020 12:45:12 PM ET
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During the fall, many states loosened their COVID-19 guidelines, allowing Americans to book haircuts and eat indoors. Now, with another wave of COVID-19 cases surging throughout the country, some states are re-implementing closures, and, even with a vaccine on the horizon, experts still don't have a clear picture on when the pandemic will effectively "end." So, what can you do to help mitigate the spread if you can't stay home due to work or other obligations? Continue to wear a mask.

Sure, the "wear a mask" refrain is one many Americans are tired of hearing, but as temperatures cool down across the country, folks are likely to spend more time indoors than they did in the summer months — and they might not be indoors alone. All of this to say, despite any mask frustration, it remains critically important to continue to follow public safety guidelines. Still a bit hazy on mask etiquette and guidelines? We've got you covered.

The Many Ways You Can Wear a Mask Wrong

It’s no secret that masks can get uncomfortable. However, many of the ways people wear face coverings to get around that minor discomfort can completely defeat the purpose of wearing a mask to being with. While your mask shouldn't be tight, if worn too loosely it won’t do anything to prevent the spread of droplets. And, just to clarify, it must cover your nose to be effective.

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While those things likely seem obvious to most of us by now, there are some less obvious ways to incorrectly navigate mask-wearing. For example, you should wash your hands before (and after) putting on or taking off your mask; additionally, you shouldn’t touch your mask while it's on. Ideally, you should wash your mask after every use, and if it gets damp you should replace it. Another widespread faux pas that folks are making? Don’t put the covering on your neck or forehead while it’s not in use.

Finally, remember that the main point of wearing a mask isn’t protecting yourself, but stopping yourself from accidentally spreading the novel coronavirus to others, especially since many folks are asymptomatic carriers. Just because it doesn’t get you sick doesn’t mean it couldn’t be potentially lethal to an older person or someone with a compromised immune system. In fact, even healthy young people have died from the virus, so don’t make assumptions — and always mask up.


Don't Reuse Disposable Gloves

Gloves sure can be handy. If you need to visit the grocery store or other essential businesses and services, gloves allow you to interact safely with the world — well, to a certain degree. That is, when you end up touching your shopping cart, your phone and your clothing with the same pair of gloves, you're not really allowing them to do much protecting. Instead, you’re spreading germs from place to place, which can be a risk for both you and others.

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Disposable gloves should be tossed away after use to prevent the spread of germs, while reusable gloves should be washed. Remember: COVID-19 can’t survive exposure to temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more for at least five minutes, so your dryer should do just fine. Nonetheless, it’s best to avoid touching things when possible even when wearing gloves; just because you’re protected doesn’t mean other people are, and one person's protective gloves can be a virus-carrying vector for others.


Take Care While Exercising

Exercise (or lack thereof) has many Americans itching to leave their homes. Physical activity is not only good for your general health, but also mental well-being. However, exercise also poses unique challenges for public safety. That’s because exercise causes you to breathe more quickly, which in turn causes you to exhale more droplets of moisture that could potentially contain the novel coronavirus.

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While you should always maintain 6 feet of distance between you and other people, you should probably stay even farther apart when it comes to exercising. While running, cycling and partaking in other distanced outdoor activities requires mask use, finding ways to exercise in your own home (or yard) can keep everyone safe, and have you breathing easy. And, hey, why not set up that home gym now?


Remember That the World Has Changed

The most important thing you can do? Simply remember that despite any "pandemic fatigue" you're facing, the public health crisis isn't over yet. There may not be anyone to hold you accountable if you break safety guidelines (other than strangers giving you side-eye, of course), but you should still follow said guidelines, no matter how easy it might be to think that things have "returned to normal."

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For instance, a meal at a restaurant may seem like a return to normalcy, but you shouldn’t forget to wash your hands before eating, and you shouldn't crowd into a booth with people from outside of your household. Above all, always give people space — even in narrow aisles, and even when it might inconvenience you for a few minutes. The bottom line: Continuing to be aware can minimize the number of people who get sick. So, suit up, avoid touching your eyes and stay mindful.