I take a walk in the morning. Again, I have a mask with me, but I don’t wear it since there is nobody around. Every five to 10 minutes, I pass another walker (coming toward me) or a biker who passes around me, but in each instance, there is always at least six feet between us, with each encounter taking less than a second. On the final turn of my route, I do see a large group of people at the corner, none of whom have masks. I go off the path to make a large semicircle around them.
Sarah Lincoln: The diarist knows that he will not be in close contact with others and doesn’t necessarily need to wear a mask. I commend him for bringing along a mask anyway and being careful to remain at least six feet away from the people he did encounter. It’s a good habit to slip on your mask when circumventing people, even if you’re able to do so at a generous distance like the diarist does.
Even though there are a lot of older people in this resort town, there is still that Southern independent streak. Very few people were wearing masks until the mandates began from chain stores like Target and Walmart, and then eventually the town put out its own rule. It made a difference because the stores and restaurants can be fined if customers are in violation. Still, there are always people who put their masks on in a half-assed fashion or down below their chin.
Sarah Lincoln: The diarist is right to call out the people who are wearing their masks in a “half-assed fashion” or under the chin. The main purpose of wearing a mask is to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets from yourself to those around you. Masks are only effective if worn properly, which means completely covering both the nose and mouth at all times. Covering just the mouth, just the nose, or neither, could potentially allow droplets to spread both from you and to you.
Later, we do take out for lunch. Since the day we got down here, we have not gone to a restaurant to eat either indoors or outdoors. Even though South Carolina allowed for it earlier than most, we just decided not to. We want to take every precaution with my wife’s higher risk.
Sarah Lincoln: Even though restaurants are allowed to be open, it is reasonable for the diarist to be wary of eating there, regardless of his wife’s condition. There is always some level of risk to any activity during the pandemic, but in terms of eating out, getting takeout is the safest option. It’s good practice to wash your hands after handling takeout containers and before eating, but otherwise takeout is a reasonably safe activity. It’s particularly a good idea for high-risk individuals and their household members to avoid eating at restaurants, even if they have outdoor seating. There is no way to guarantee that the establishment is fully on top of all the necessary safety measures and there is also no way of knowing what other customers have been doing in their daily lives.
As I do every time we do get food outside the house, I order ahead and stop by the restaurant wearing a mask. There is indoor and outdoor dining. The pickup window is in the outdoor seating area, adjacent to the bar. Most of the patrons do not wear masks, but most of the waitstaff does.
Ivanna Rocha: The public should be aware that in a dining room situation, whether indoors or out, the waitstaff is actually the group at highest risk of infection. Servers will have to come in contact with all patrons whether tables are six or 12 feet apart. As well-intentioned as a restaurant may be in staying open, safety precautions are upheld to make their customers feel safe, not so much for their employees. It’s best to keep away from on-site dining as much as possible, but if you do choose to stay for your meal, wear a mask in the presence of staff and only remove it when eating.
Given the environment of lots of people expelling breaths without masks, I’m anxious to get in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible. My food is ready, but the woman taking payment at the window disappears into the back with my credit card to run it through. One minute passes, then two. I think about every minute I stay standing there as a percentage increase in my chance of catching something. I seriously consider just leaving the food behind and canceling my credit card. Thankfully, the attendant returns with my card. I take my food and quickly leave.
Sarah Lincoln: It’s only natural to feel anxious during these times, given the unknowns of the virus. However, even though the diarist was surrounded by maskless diners, the fact that he was outdoors and spent minimal time at the window, means he did not have a high chance of catching Covid-19. Being outdoors, in general, allows for respiratory droplets to disperse or get carried away by constantly moving fresh air.
Ivanna Rocha: All of our decisions these days feel like a mind game. Being overcautious is generally better than a false sense of security, but at what point does it become paralyzing fear? I understand the diarist’s panic at the restaurant, but there are ways to avoid these feelings altogether. Weigh out your options beforehand, pick a restaurant that you know handles takeout apart from dine-in areas, or consider ordering for delivery. Anxiety can come from having to make decisions on the fly. Before you go out, make a backup plan in case you encounter situations that are at odds with your self-enforced safety precautions.
In the late afternoon, I go to the library to check out some books for my daughter. I enter wearing a mask, and everyone in the building is also masked. A librarian (masked) attends the main counter behind a plexiglass stand. He has the books I previously reserved and hands them to me through the hole in the plexiglass. After taking the books, I use hand sanitizer before returning to the car.
Ivanna Rocha: My family has been checking out books and movies from our local library as well. We follow a similar procedure as the diarist did, but we also leave our haul in the car to quarantine for a couple days before bringing it in the house just to be safe.
Right now I’m the primary educator, IT consultant, and playmate for my daughter. That can be exhausting. She is a good kid but these are skills I haven’t been trained for. And when it’s just you and your child, It makes it all the more difficult. She can’t really meet new kids in this situation. I know some families in Maryland have planned play pods, and I wonder if we might have joined them if we had been home. My wife’s higher risk factors into every decision we’ve made, but sometimes you have to make a calculation. Maybe for your own mental health, you take a chance.
Sarah Lincoln: Caregiver advice: The diarist puts it well by saying it is a calculation. If you think it’s important for your child to be able to interact with others, think about how much risk you and your family can handle. Be open and transparent about communicating your boundaries and risk level with those you’re considering creating a play pod with.
I want to reiterate that it is impossible for anyone to have zero risk of infection. There is only more or less risk, so it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with various activities. This will allow you to make informed decisions about what you’re comfortable doing while following best practices — meaning social distancing and mask use — for staying safe.
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