As a doctor chronicling the coronavirus, I know firsthand that wintertime and COVID are not best friends. Tired of being stuck at home, but not wanting to be outdoors in cold weather, Americans are dashing around crowded shopping malls, standing in supermarket queues and looking for something, anything, to do with the kids—just perfect conditions for viral transmission. The virus doesn’t know what season it is, and it will take every opportunity to spread itself when it can—turning the normally dreary January into a deadly one.
So how to ensure you and your family stay safe until we’ve reached herd immunity? Start by avoiding these places even if they’re open. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Higher risk activities mean situations like:
a large social gathering such as a wedding, a big party, or a funeral
a large event such as a big sporting event or concert
restaurants, bars, nightclubs, movie theatres or gyms
any form of public transport such as buses, trains, boats, or taxis
if you’ve traveled through an airport, or on a ship
Finland, Norway, and Sweden are all listed as level 4 on the CDC website, meaning all travel there should currently be avoided. Sadly, no trip to Lapland should be on the cards this year! In fact, foreign travel is a risk factor for acquiring COVID infection, and for transmission of the virus when you return home. This is because traveling inevitably means visiting an airport, standing in a queue, using public toilets, mixing with crowds of people, breathing recirculated air, and sitting in a confined space on the aircraft for the duration of your journey. You may also need to use public transport.
I love parties too—I’ve told you in these blog posts that I’m a ballroom dancing enthusiast and winter is the best time for parties, dance nights, and balls. How can anyone enjoy the colder seasons without busting a move?
Here’s the grown-up answer. We just have to. Now that we have a vaccine, let’s console ourselves that next year will be different. This year, it’s much more sensible to accept we need to protect ourselves and those we love and stay at home. This is a temporary upset, and with patience, we will get to next holiday season fit and well. If we don’t do this now, the reverse will be true.
There are other ways to make the best of the situation.
Why not meet up in small groups, all socially distanced, and only with people you know well and who have been extremely careful—like you. If you can, meet outdoors for a walk in the park and take a thermos for hot drinks? Or have an outdoor garden party—sales of patio heaters have gone crazy in the U.K,! Alternatively, Zoom meetings and online games and quizzes can be a food idea. We recently did an online Murder Mystery which was super fun. You can design your own family session.
Try watching dancing on YouTube and follow online tuition. It’s not the same but it gets you off the sofa! In some parts of the U.K., people have been dancing in the streets—literally!
If you do decide to go to a wedding or a funeral, these are high-risk for spreading infections. The main thing is to keep your distance from other people, wear your mask at all times, do not shake hands, hug, or kiss anyone. Do not eat food doled out with shared serving spoons, or that others have touched or handed around. Take care about using the facilities—shared toilets pose a high risk. Wash your hands regularly and use the hand gel.
Being up close to large numbers of people, especially when it’s hot, you are breathing circulated air, and using shared restrooms, is high-risk of becoming infected with the virus. The same applies to being in the audience for a show or a concert. The virus is transmitted in respiratory droplets, but also the smaller articles are transmitted as aerosols which linger in the air for several hours after they’ve been exhaled. Scientists now realize that transmission is more frequently due to aerosols than they initially thought.
The first point, if you have to go to any of these places, is to wear a mask—please! Wear a properly fitting mask, made of at least three layers of cotton which fits snugly across your nose and cheeks and covers your mouth and nose. A bandana—worn around your neck and lifted up and down—is the worst type of mask and studies show it actually increases—not decreases—your risk of infection!
Next point, there are many ways to get around having to go shopping. Shop online—it’s so much more convenient. Or ask your friends or family, to shop for you. You can always give gift vouchers instead.
If you can’t go to the cinema or the theatre, you can easily watch movies or theatre productions at home. In the UK, many theatres organized streaming of live productions to watch on TV. There’s loads of fun to be had from the comfort of your own home.
Restaurants are having a tough time right now. Many have done an amazing job of doing what they can to help you stay safe.
However, going out to eat has to be riskier than eating at home. Being in a restaurant means being in close proximity to other people, and this is how the virus spreads. If you are vulnerable, or over the age of 50, I would seriously avoid going to restaurants right now.
If you are going to eat in a restaurant, take a good look around the restaurant.
Is there hand gel available and being used by other guests on arrival?
Are the waiting staff and any customers walking around the restaurant wearing masks?
Is it crowded, are the tables set apart, and can you stay at least six-feet from the next person wherever you are seated?
Are there high ceilings, and good ventilation?
If these factors are not in place, do not eat there. You are very unlikely to get COVID from eating food in a restaurant; the risk is from other people. A good alternative is a takeaway. Why not treat yourself instead?
Just like restaurants being in a bar means being close to other people. The problem here is that as you drink, you relax, and it becomes more difficult to keep your six-feet distance. You also need to share the restrooms—high-risk for becoming infected.
Bars are generally not a good idea this winter! Why not enjoy drinking at home instead? Or meet your friends outside for a winter walk and a hot toddy in a flask?
Remember that anyone who has been in contact with the virus, or at risk—for example, travelers—will be in quarantine for 7-14 days. Even if they have tested negative you should not visit them, because they can have no symptoms, be infectious and have a negative COVID test in the early stages of the infection. Quarantine means no visitors and staying at home, preferably in one room, with your own bathroom and someone bringing you your meals.
RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors
In the winter, respiratory viruses always spread like wildfire. You don’t want to get COVID and influenza at the same time, or risk passing either or both to other people. Hospitals, clinics, and all healthcare establishments are high-risk.
You can think ahead and request your medicines online.
Request telephone appointments rather than face to face.
Do not visit friends and family in the hospital – you can phone them or video call them instead.
Please – get a flu shot. This could save your life. This year having a flu show is more important than ever.
The best gift you can give an elderly or vulnerable person this year, is a card, a phone call, or a video message. Old and vulnerable people are most at risk. In the U.K., we have just started a system of rapid COVID testing, which can be done on the say, and if negative permits a visit. There’s always next year! And the vaccine is on its way.
RELATED: If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says Dr. Fauci
This winter—keep COVID-safe. The virus doesn’t jump up and infect you. It needs people to transmit person to person. In general, the message is:
Stay at home when you can and find a happy alternative
Avoid – anywhere you cannot socially distance
Avoid – anywhere with shared bathrooms
Avoid – anywhere without handwashing facilities
Please – wear a mask at all times when you are outside your own home
And get a flu shot.
And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.