Take the stairs, not the elevator, down from your hotel room. Encourage people to bring their own food and drinks to your cookout. Use hand sanitizer after banking at an ATM. Call ahead to restaurants and nail salons to make sure staff are wearing face coverings. And no high-fives — or even elbow bumps — at the gym.
These are some of the tips in long-awaited guidance from U.S. health officials about how to reduce risk of coronavirus infection for Americans who are attempting some semblance of normal life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the Covid-19 guidelines Friday, along with a second set for organizing and attending big gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, protests and political rallies.
But the guidelines are “not intended to endorse any particular type of event,” the CDC’s Dr. Jay Butler said in a Friday call with reporters.
The staging and attendance of such events should be in accordance with what local health officials are advising, based on much the coronavirus is spreading in a particular community, he added.
The guidelines are long overdue, some health experts say.
Julia Marcus, a Harvard Medical School infectious disease researcher, has likened stay-at-home suggestions to “abstinence-only” messaging and has pressed for advice to help people minimize risk. She said she was delighted by the CDC’s tips.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Marcus said. “These guidelines are really directed toward ordinary Americans trying to make decisions about risk every day.”
But there are notable omissions. There’s nothing about precautions to take before going to church, no guidance about dating and sex and no explicit advice on a topic that some doctors say they get asked all the time: Is it OK to take the kids to visit grandparents?
“Visiting grandma is something I must address three times a week,“ said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert.
“My empathy goes out to the CDC. It’s very, very difficult to have a precise answer for every circumstance,” he added.
Stay-at-home orders, school shutdowns and business closings were followed by a national flattening in the rate of new cases. In recent weeks, many states have started reopening as they face pressure to get the pandemic-damaged economy going again. And cases are rising in nearly half the states, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The CDC has put out many sets of guidelines, including some for churches, camps, schools and transit agencies. But until now, the organization hasn’t offered specific advice to people trying to decide how to safely do things like take vacations, get their nails done, host barbecues, visit a bank or library, go out to eat or exercise at a gym.
Other organizations have been trying to fill the void, and some have addressed questions the CDC didn’t.
New York City’s health department this week released guidelines for having sex during the coronavirus outbreak. The department advised people to have sex only with those who are close to them, and not with multiple partners. It also suggested washing hands before sex, wearing a mask during it, and said “be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.”
The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, called his agency’s new guidelines “common sense suggestions,” not mandates. State or local governments may want to reimpose stricter measures if new outbreaks occur, but that’s a call for them to make, CDC officials said.
The guidelines repeat earlier advice about wearing face coverings, especially if it’s difficult to keep at least 6 feet away from other people.
They also offers a list of questions people should consider before going out, and some things to think about in particular situations. For example, it suggests that house parties be held outside, guests be greeted with a wave instead of a hug and that everyone bring their own food and drinks.
Venturing Out? Be Prepared and Stay Safe
Consider these tips to keep you and others safe when you venture out.
Going to the Bank
- Ask about options for telephone or virtual meetings to use banking services.
- Use drive-thru banking services, automated teller machines (ATM), or mobile banking apps for routine transactions that do not require face-to-face assistance as much as possible.
- Look for any extra prevention practices being implemented by the bank, such as plexiglass barriers for tellers or bankers, staff wearing cloth face coverings, or physical distancing signs in the lobby.
- Wear a cloth face covering when doing any in-person exchanges and unable to stay at least 6 feet apart from other people – and make sure that bank employees and other people inside the bank are also wearing cloth face coverings.
- Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol after any deposit, withdrawal, exchange, drive-thru visit, or use of an ATM.
- Wash your hands thoroughly when you arrive home or to your destination where a restroom is available.
Dining at a Restaurant
- Check the restaurant’s website and social media to see if they have updated their information to address any COVID-19 safety guidelines.
- Before you go to the restaurant, call and ask if all staff are wearing cloth face coverings while at work.
- Wear cloth face coverings when less than 6 feet apart from other people or indoors.
- Take precautions – like wearing a cloth face covering as much as possible when not eating and maintaining a proper social distance if you are dining with others who don’t live with you.
- Ask about options for self-parking to remove the need for a valet service.
- Maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more in any entryway, hallway, or waiting area.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting the restaurant. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- When possible, sit outside at tables spaced at least 6 feet apart from other people.
- When possible, choose food and drink options that are not self-serve to limit the use of shared serving utensils, handles, buttons, or touchscreens.
- Before using the restroom, make sure there is adequate soap and paper towels or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Hosting Gatherings or Cook-Outs
- Remind invited guests to stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or are showing COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who has had close contact with a person who has COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health. Invited guests who live with those at higher risk should also consider the potential risk to their loved ones.
- Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated (for example, open a window).
- When guests arrive, minimize gestures that promote close contact. For example, don’t shake hands, do elbow bumps, or give hugs. Instead wave and verbally greet them.
- Wear cloth face coverings when less than 6 feet apart from people or indoors.
- Consider providing face coverings for guests or asking them to bring their own.
- Consider providing hand sanitizer in addition to clearly marked hand washing areas.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting social gatherings. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. People from the same household can be in groups together and don’t need to be 6 feet apart – just 6 feet away from other families.
- Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks.
- If serving any food, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
- If you choose to use any shared items that are reusable (e.g., seating covers, tablecloths, linen napkins), wash, clean, and sanitize them after the event.
- Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, and condiments, so that multiple people are not handling the items.
- Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible.
- Remind guests to wash their hands before serving or eating food.
- If planning activities for adults and/or kids, consider those where social distancing can be maintained, like sidewalk chalk art or frisbee.
- Use touchless garbage cans or pails.
- Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
- Make sure there is adequate soap or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available in the restrooms and encourage guests not to form a line at the door. Consider also providing cleaning supplies that allow guests to wipe down surfaces before they leave.
- Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so guests do not share a towel.
- Consider keeping a list of guests who attended for potential future contract tracing needs.
Using Gyms and Fitness Centers
- Use options for online reservations and check-in systems when available.
- Look for any extra prevention practices being implemented by the facility, such as new plexiglass barriers, staff wearing cloth face coverings, and closing of shared locker room space.
- Seek facilities with outdoor space or options for virtual classes and training sessions as much as possible.
- Limit attendance at indoor group training sessions. If you do attend such a session, maintain as much distance as possible between yourself and other individuals, and use cloth face coverings if they do not interfere with your activity. If you need to be indoors, open windows to increase airflow throughout the space.
- Maintain at least 6 feet of separation as much as possible in areas that may lead to close contact (within 6 feet) among other people, such as weight rooms, group fitness studios, pools and saunas, courts and fields, walking/running tracks, locker rooms, check-in areas, parking lots, and routes of entry and exit.
- Ensure equipment is clean and disinfected. Wipe down machines and equipment with disinfecting wipes and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol before using machines.
- Do not share items that cannot be cleaned, sanitized, or disinfected between use, such as resistance bands and weightlifting belts.
- Don’t shake hands, give high-fives, do elbow bumps, or touch others because close contact increases the risk of acquiring COVID-19.
- Be prepared that locker room access may be limited to the restroom area only, prohibiting the use of shower and changing areas.
- Wear a cloth face covering when interacting with other people to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.
- Wearing cloth face coverings is most important when physical distancing is difficult and when exercise type and intensity allows. Consider doing any vigorous-intensity exercise outside when possible and stay at least 6 feet away from other participants, trainers, and clients if unable to wear a face covering.
- If possible, wear a face covering when walking on an indoor track or when doing stretching or low-intensity forms of yoga indoors.
- Wash your hands before adjusting your face covering—review information about proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.
Going to Nail Salons
- Book services in advance to remove the need for waiting in a lobby with other people. If you must wait, maintain social distance.
- Before you go, call and ask if all staff are wearing cloth face coverings at work and if there are physical barriers to minimize risk of transmission (e.g., plexiglass barriers).
- If offered by the salon, wait in your car or outside until you can be contacted by mobile phone when it is your turn to be seen for an appointment.
- Wear a cloth face covering at all times when inside the salon.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately before receiving your service and after touching any common surfaces like curing lamps, countertops, doorknobs, toilets, tables, light switches, phones, faucets, sinks, and keyboards.
- Use cashless payment options when possible. If not available, ensure that cash and cards are handled with care by employees either by changing gloves between each transaction or with use of hand sanitizer between clients.
- Look for no-touch waste baskets at the cash registers and in the restrooms.
- Use online reservation and advance-order checkout systems, if possible.
- Choose digital over print materials, if possible.
- Request a curbside pick-up if available and use cloth face coverings during pick-up exchanges.
- Wash your hands before and after exchanges.
- Clean and disinfect electronics (laptops) and library materials in plastic containers (CDs, audio books) during returns and/or exchanges.
- If allowed and available inside the library, use computer stations one person at a time. Ensure they are cleaned before use and use a disinfectant wipe on the mouse and keyboard.
- Use options for online reservation and check-in, mobile room key, and contactless payment.
- Before you go, call and ask if all staff are wearing cloth face coverings at work.
- Look for any extra prevention practices being implemented by the hotel, such as plexiglass barriers at check-in counters, and physical distancing signs in the lobby.
- Ask if the hotel has updated policies about cleaning and disinfecting or removing frequently touched surfaces and items (such as pens, room keys, tables, phones, doorknobs, light switches, elevator buttons, water fountains, ATMs/card payment stations, business center computers and printers, ice/vending machines, and remote controls).
- Wear a cloth face covering in the lobby or other common areas.
- Minimize use of areas that may lead to close contact (within 6 feet) with other people as much as possible, like break rooms, outside patios, inside lounging areas, dining areas/kitchens, game rooms, pools, hot tubs, saunas, spas, salons, and fitness centers.
- Request contactless delivery for any room service order.
- Consider taking the stairs. Otherwise wait to use the elevator until you can either ride alone or only with people from your household.
- If you are considering cleaning your travel lodgings, see CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect.