This is the fourth in a series on opening up safely with the goal to provide a framework for evaluating risk as states and counties begin to relax stay home orders. Today, we’ll cover mitigating your risk of exposure.

We understand that it is summer and most of us have been cooped up for the last four months, but that doesn’t mean that coronavirus is no longer a risk. Though the safest way to avoid the coronavirus is to stay in your home away from people, that might be difficult guidance to follow, especially during these warmer months. Luckily, there are easy to follow measures that can save lives while still allowing you to enjoy the summer.

In prior articles, we talked about important factors to evaluate before participating in an activity.

  • Risk for Severe COVID-19 Infection: Understanding your likeliness of a severe infection helps to inform the level of precaution you should take
  • Safety of Your County: Evaluating the safety of your county indicates the prevalence of COVID-19 and the preparedness of your county
  • Risk of an Activity: Assessing the risk of an activity can help inform whether it is within your risk tolerance

These factors are connected and should be evaluated in conjunction with each other. For example, even if you are at low risk for severe infection but your county has a very high prevalence of COVID-19, you should exhibit greater precaution.

Once you have decided to partake in an activity, there are ways you can mitigate your risk by taking action before, during and after the activity.

Before

  • Create a social bubble: To safely socialize, you many consider creating a social bubble. You and your bubble must stay exclusive for this measure to be effective.
  • Know your symptoms: Understand the symptoms to look for in determining when testing is needed. Evaluate yourself for common symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, shortness of breath, fever above 100F and fatigue beyond usual. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you should refrain from going out. Forward has a free, remote COVID-19 assessment to provide guidance on testing, quarantine, and care, regardless of insurance status, income level, or proximity to a doctor’s office.
  • Have a testing plan: Know where your nearest testing site is and the requirements for testing. This may include a doctor’s referral or insurance. COVID-19 testing is included in all Forward memberships. Members can get tested at their Forward location, including drive-thru access where available.
  • Have a care plan: Have a room that can be used for isolation in the event that someone in your household falls ill. If you don’t have a room that can be used for isolation, we recommend reaching out to your local county health office. Many cities have set up programs where they will assist in short-term relocation for those who test positive for COVID-19. Forward members can message their Care Team with any health questions.

During

  • Stay outdoors: Try to participate in activities that are primarily outdoors or move normally indoor activities to outside. This can be done by taking your coffee to-go on a walk and hosting a dinner in your backyard or a park.
  • Limit the number of people: Reduce the number of people that you will come into contact with. This can be done by organizing smaller gatherings, picking more isolated locations like hiking trails and minimizing the number of stops when driving on a road trip.
  • Limit the amount of time: Reduce the amount of time you spend in close proximity to other people. This can be done by creating a list to shop more efficiently, walking quickly through or avoiding crowded parking lots and keeping conversations with people passing as minimal as possible.
  • Limit proximity to others: Take steps to stay at least six feet from other people. For example, you should set your picnic blanket up in less trafficked areas and step off the hiking trail when others are passing as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Wear a mask: Your mouth and nose should be covered and ask the people around you to wear a face covering as well. Consider wearing something to cover your eyes to protect against COVID-19 and to deter face touching.
  • Bring hand sanitizer: Take hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes whenever you leave your house. Use them frequently, especially if you will be eating or touching your face.
  • Don’t share items: Avoid sharing items like serving utensils, water bottles or sports equipment.

After

  • Sanitize clothing and items: When you return home, the best thing to do is to remove your outside clothes and separate them from the clothes you wear inside the house. If possible, use sanitizing wipes to clean your belongings like your phone, keys or watch as soon as you get into the house. Wash your hands thoroughly to prevent transmission of the virus.
  • Keep track of interactions: Stay in contact with the people with whom you closely interacted, if possible. Proactively communicate if you feel symptoms and ask them to contact you if they fall sick.
  • Monitor for symptoms: Evaluate yourself for common symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough, shortness of breath, fever above 100F and fatigue beyond usual. Contact the people you interacted with if you feel sick fewer than 14 days after the interaction.
  • Get tested: Contact your doctor if you feel sick or believe you have been exposed. Forward members can get tested at no cost at their nearest location.
  • Distance if possible: Stay away from people who are immunocompromised, have chronic conditions, or are senior for a few weeks after you socialize. In general, it’s best to minimize contacts for 14 days following a social interaction.

Identify routines that are safe to make this more manageable. Leave masks by your front door and in your car so they are always accessible. Invest in lawn chairs or picnic blankets to make meet-ups outside more comfortable. Schedule meet-ups in your calendar with the attendees to easily keep track of everyone you’ve been in contact with and when.

Keep in mind, many states are reporting their highest recorded case counts. Precautions like those outlined are more important than ever — and these measures can save lives while still allowing you to enjoy the summer.