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High-risk vs. low-risk: Here's what to consider when planning summer outings, activities

Public health and medical experts say it all comes down to how close together, and for how long you're spending time with others.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For months, health experts have made it clear that we should avoid big crowds. But as Phase 2 marches on, which activities are safe - and which pose a higher risk than others?

WFMY News 2 spoke with a doctor and a public health professor about how they would rate some common summer outings and activities when it comes to the risk of coronavirus transmission.

"It is human nature for us to want to get back to normal. There’s no doubt about it. This is the first time any of us have experienced a pandemic," said Dr. Bob Strack, Public Health professor at UNCG. "If you're thinking like the virus, the more time you spend in a place - the more exposure you are going to have, for the opportunity to pick up the virus. So, time and space are important."

To consider whether your activity could be deemed more high risk than not - consider the amount of time spent - plus, the physical distance between yourself and others. Dr. Strack also said you must take into account the people you'll be around. 

"What the people around you are doing matters - and paying attention to those people that you are cohabitating with either long-term or maybe a weekend where you are cohabitating with another couple...if you know that their behaviors have been good, and they are not exposing themselves to risks, your chances are a lot less than if you are exposing yourself to people who you have no idea whether or not they’re protecting themselves," said Strack. 


Spending time/exercising outdoors: Dr. Bruce Swords, Chief Physician Executive for Cone Health says this is very low risk, and one of the best ways to enjoy summer. 

"I am a big fan of being outdoors, and a big fan of exercising outdoors - and doing that with some common sense," he said. "Stay away from each other, but being outside and exercising, I think, is very low risk."

Going to the beach: The more distance you put between yourself and other beachgoers - the better. Dr. Swords says the risk goes up when people fail to maintain social distance. 

"If you’re on a beach and you’re setting up camp 20 feet away from folks that you don’t live with, and you're there for a long period of time, that’s probably a low-risk," he said. "It all depends on how close you are to somebody and how long you are that close to them."

Small backyard get-together: Dr. Swords says if you're hosting or heading to a small gathering, being outside is ideal. You'll want to stay six feet away from others and wear a mask. 

"I think there are ways to do that well. Staying away from each other and making sure chairs are away from each other - you could do that safely.

"As the day or evening goes on, just make sure that you are as rigorous with social distancing and wearing masks at the first hour of the party."


Shopping at a mall: Dr. Swords marks this as a moderate risk - depending on what stores you're shopping at - and whether it is an indoor or outdoor mall. 

"I think that if you were selective about what stores you’re going into and making sure that they are not crowded, and that folks are wearing a mask, you can continue to do that with relative safety. I will put that on the moderate range," he said. 

Eating at a restaurant: Dr. Swords says it depends. If a restaurant is following strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines, the risk is lower. 

"If you’re eating indoors and you’re several feet away from other folks who are in the restaurant, that’s probably not as high of a risk," he said. "Although, you need to be really careful about whether restaurants are actively pursuing social distancing and have the tables in the right place. I would sit as far away from folks as you can."


Holding a wedding with a large number of guests: An outdoor setting is always preferable to indoor. However, medical professionals still advise against these types of celebrations with many people involved.

"Right now, I think it is pretty hard to have an intimate gathering like a wedding in a socially distant manner," Dr. Swords said. "It would be pretty awkward to have dozens of people, or 100 people or more, in a room and trying to figure out how people stay six feet away from each other."

Going to a bar: Dr. Swords says he agrees with Gov. Cooper's latest executive order, which did NOT allow bars to reopen under Phase 2.

"It's really hard to figure out how to go to a bar and stay socially distant and wear a mask."

Attending an indoor church service: The time spent inside and the kinds of worshipping activities lead experts to believe this is a more high-risk activity. 

"Being indoors, close to folks where people might be speaking out loud or singing close to folks, you’re breathing differently. You’re in close proximity. So, I would put that in the higher risk category - at least in the moderate to high-risk category."

Getting a haircut: Believe it or not, Dr. Swords says this activity can be fairly high-risk since it's very hard to get a haircut and be socially distant. 

"That process involves being in close proximity to somebody," he said. "And the person who’s cutting your hair has been in close proximity to other folks throughout the day. And, you can be there in the chair for 30 minutes or more, so I think that it can be fairly high-risk, even in the context of wearing a mask."

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