Re-engaging with the Outside World

State by state situations are changing by the day. In PA, I can see my neighbors spending more and more time with others. I'd like to understand more how to assess my risks, what might work for me and my family, and how to make sure our elderly parents are safe through it all. We live just outside Philadelphia and most things seem open for business.

How do I gauge what is and isn't worth the risk to our safety?

  Topic Covid-19 Subtopic Family Life Tags pennsylvania socializing covid19
6 Months 4 Answers 551 views
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Peter Yeargin

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Answers ( 4 )

  1. It would be much easier to make decisions like this if the virus were visible. Imagine that you could see the virus as some sort of fluorescent pink -- particles hanging in the air as infected people talk, bits of hot pink spittle spewing out when someone sneezes (but then falling to the ground, because their much larger and heavier than aerosols from breath), smears of pink on doorknobs and handrails.  Gross, right?  But you'd be able to spot infected people and stay away from them!  So that would be nice.

    Let's say you wanted to go to the gym to work out -- but upon walking through the door, you might notice a haze of bright pink everywhere.  There's an outbreak going on, right there, right now!  You'd turn around and walk right back out, mask or no mask!

    But of course, it's not that easy.  You have make decisions about an invisible virus -- and because it seems clear that people can spread it before they show symptoms, you don't always have coughs and sneezes to warn you. So whether you realize it or not, you're making a sort of mathematical, probabilistic judgment about the risk when you do pretty much anything these days. Feel like having pizza?  You'd like to eat at your favorite place, but even with a half-capacity dining area, you might not feel safe -- so you pick up a pie and take it home.  You're not eliminating your risk, but you're minimizing it.  

    So if you want to do that in some sort of reasonably thought-out way (and you want to use some factual data to guide your thoughts), here's what I'd recommend: think about how severe the virus is in your area, for as local an area as you can (that is, your county instead of your state, and your state instead of your country), and think about the relative risk of your activity.  Those are the two biggest factors behind how "pink" the air will be that you're breathing.

    For the severity of the outbreak in your area, there are no shortage of data sources these days.  I have five or six tabs open in my browser at any given time to look at different ways that people are displaying the data.  I think my favorite today, July 10, is this one:

    Screenshot 2020-07-09 at 5.53.48 PM.png

    It's county-by-county, and you can zoom in on a specific state. The rates of infection are a rolling seven-day average, which smoothes out the variation over the course of each week that occurs because less paperwork is done on the weekends. If you have to travel somewhere, it lets you know what you're getting into. 

    Just as important is understanding how much risk various activities present. Scientists learn more and more about COVID-19 every day and their guidance changes over time -- and it should!  So keep yourself informed about what they say about your favorite activities (I love to play bar trivia, but that's just about dead last on the list of safe activities, so that won't be happening for a while).  For now, this is a pretty good list -- but it might change in the future:


    There are lots of places to get data like this, but it's been pretty consistent and you can gather the general rules from the list: outdoors is better than indoors, singing, shouting, and heavy exercise around others is bad, and large crowds packed close together are really bad.

    So I can't tell you what your level of comfort is. The advice is clear: stay home whenever possible (especially if your local area is having a pronounced problem with COVID-19), don't spend a lot of time around people you don't live with, don't spend time inside buildings you don't live in, and if you have to go out, wear a mask for the protection of other people as well as yourself. That's how we, as a community of humans, turn that map from red to yellow to green.
    Accepted UTC 2020-07-10 11:43 AM 0 Comments
  2. I'm not sure anywhere in the USA is "safe" now.  A large fraction of the population seems to have bought the idea that COVID-19 is "like the flu" and they might as well just get it over with.  Under those circumstances, you will probably be unable to escape the "Zombie Apocalypse" -- everyone will get it and around 5% of Americans will die unless a vaccine comes far sooner than expected.  Then those who  say, "My livelihood/recreation/amusement is more important than your life," will feel it was a small price to pay to get back to "normal" -- even though the "normal" that we used to enjoy so irresponsibly is already gone forever.  Having made that choice, no one will ever be able to go back to pretending they care about anyone but themselves.

    UTC 2020-07-11 07:54 PM 0 Comments
  3. Doug, that first one is a GREAT map. Thanks for sharing that. I really got a lot out of that. It will help my wife as I show her the status of PA where we live. 5.7/day/100K pop for a 7-day average is not bad.

    UTC 2020-07-13 01:58 AM 0 Comments
  4. Part of the problem with knowing what to do, is that COVID-19 is a novel virus and our unrderstanding of it is changing rapidly. (Another part of the problem is lack of coordinated efforts on education and communicaions, but we have to set that aside as government information isn't reliable pretty much worldwide right now.)

    What we do know is simple - the disease spreads by being aersolized - breathing, singing, talking. People in proximity are more at risk, distsnce and masks help to keep the spread down.

    What does that mean to you? It means you and your loved ones ought to stay home if you can, wear masks if you have to go out, stay distanced from people outside your family bubble and wash your hands for 20 seconds or morewhenever you touch something that is or has been outside your house.

    Beyond that, you need to make decisions as an adult the best you can. Can you rely on your parents to stay home and wear masks when they have to go out? If not, you may need to explain to them why you and your family will not be visiting. You may need to explain too, that if they get sick, you might not be able to be there for them. (I had to do that back at the beginning of the quarantine. "I will not be able to visit you in the hospital" got the message across.)

    People I know and love are still going out every day for something and I had to tell them I will absolutely not be visiting because I am at high risk and they are not taking this seriously at all.

    Sit with you spuse and kids if they are old enough and have an honest talk about fears and uncertainties. We're going to be dealing with this for a while. The more support you and your famil give each other, the easier it will be on all of you.

    UTC 2020-07-17 03:16 PM 0 Comments

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