During a pandemic, every member of the household should manage their own exposure budget. (Think Weight Watchers points for virus risk.) You spend very few budget points for low-risk choices like a once-a-week grocery trip or exercising outdoors. You spend more budget points when you attend an indoor dinner party, get a haircut or go to the office. You blow your budget completely if you spend time in a crowd.
“Moving into a long-term management phase, we have to start thinking like this,” says Johannes Eichstaedt, a computational social scientist and psychology professor at Stanford University. “Don’t take risks where it’s not needed, and make trade-offs that are congruent with your larger health needs and priorities. If seeing my grandchild in the park means, to balance this, I can only go to the supermarket every other week, maybe that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for my mental health and well-being.”
Unfortunately, there’s no magic number to determine your personal exposure budget and the exposure “costs” of different actions. But think about your overall exposure budget when you make decisions to spend time with other people, particularly older people and those with high-risk conditions.
4. Keep higher risk activities as short as possible
Every time you make plans, ask yourself, “If an infected person happens to be nearby, how much time could I be spending with them?” It takes an extended period of close contact with an infected person, or extended time in a poorly ventilated room with an infected person, to have a substantial risk of catching the virus through the air, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech.
When making decisions, keep indoor events brief and move social events outdoors. Wear a mask and practice social distancing. Here’s some guidance about time of exposure.
Brief exposure: Brief encounters, particularly those outside — like passing someone on the sidewalk or a runner who huffs and puffs past your picnic — are unlikely to make you sick.
Face-to-face contact: Wear a mask, and keep close conversations short. We don’t know the level of exposure required to make you sick, but estimates range from a few hundred to 1,000 copies of the virus. In theory, you might reach the higher estimate after just five minutes of close conversation, given that a person might expel 200 viral particles a minute through speech. When health officials perform contact tracing, they typically look for people with whom you’ve spent at least 15 minutes in close contact.