How to Stay Safe as Massachusetts Slowly Reopens
In March, government leaders, under the guidance of infectious disease experts, slammed the brakes on life as we knew it in order to avoid a serious catastrophe: The health threat presented by COVID-19. Just like when you’re driving your car, you don’t screech to a halt unless there’s a serious risk ahead of you that makes stopping short the safer option.
Thanks to the sacrifices made by residents across the Commonwealth, and the heroic efforts of healthcare workers across the state, data shows that Massachusetts is on the downward slope of the curve. Acknowledging that the economic and social costs of slamming on the brakes were great, Governor Charlie Baker announced guidelines to carefully reopen Massachusetts this week.
To continue the car analogy, this phased reopening is an effort to ease our foot off the brake while working to ensure it’s safe to slowly accelerate. The road ahead, from a public health perspective, is not clear enough to stomp on the gas and move quickly from zero to 60.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind as Massachusetts slowly reopens:
DO: Wear a mask in public
Masking is a key step everyone can take to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. It’s vitally important to wear a mask when you’re inside a public building, or if you’re outside and can’t maintain a distance of at least six feet from people that you don’t live with. For example, if you’re dropping your pet off at the groomer in Phase 1, keep your mask on as the employee collects your pet from the car.
As annoying as it may be, it’s a lot easier to keep our nose and mouth under a mask than it is to be have our whole body put back into quarantine if we see a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and/or hospitalizations.
DO: Continue to stay home if you’re elderly or chronically ill
COVID-19 can be life-threatening to individuals of all ages, but it’s especially serious for the elderly or those with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, chronic heart and lung disease, chronic kidney disease, or a weakened immune system.
Governor Baker’s plan continues visitor restrictions that have been in place at chronic care facilities and nursing homes. It’s hard not to see our loved ones in person, but we must do it to protect the lives of the most vulnerable patients and the health of their caregivers.
DON’T: Host a large party, even outside
As the Memorial Day holiday approaches, it’s tempting to invite family and friends over for a big gathering. We’re not ready for that yet.
The Commonwealth’s guidelines state that gatherings should be limited to 10 people or less in Phase 1 and Phase 2 in order to minimize the spread of the virus. It’s sound advice, as group gatherings are fertile ground for the virus to spread. Check out this graphic, which shows how individual choices make a big difference in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The safest way to socialize is still over the phone or via video chat platforms. If you do invite a few friends over, they should stay outside the walls of your home as much as possible. Letting them use the bathroom is OK, but they should keep their mask on, wash their hands thoroughly, and you should thoroughly disinfect high-touch areas like light switches, doorknobs, sink knobs, and the toilet handle once they leave.
And being outside doesn’t mean you can ignore social distancing rules. Stay six feet or more apart, avoid hugs, kisses, and high-fives. Also, it’s best to keep your mask on, even at a distance, to reduce the risk droplets can spread between you and your guests.
DON’T: Share food or drink
Whether you’re one of the industries that’s heading back to work in Phase 1, or you’re inviting a friend over, do not share food. Ask people to bring their own food and drink, or offer pre-packaged, individual servings. Now is not the time to make your famous dip recipe.
DO: Keep your hands clean
Hand hygiene is so important for stopping the spread of all germs—not just coronavirus. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially when returning home from public places. (Here's a video on how to do it.)
Keep hand sanitizer nearby for times when you can’t wash your hands with soap and water. And, as always, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands.
DO: Continue to follow public health updates
Across the country, states are not opening at the same time or with the exact same rules. Nor should they.
Let’s learn what is working and what isn’t working in real-time, both here in Massachusetts and in other states.
By collaborating and sharing best practices on testing, contact tracing, mask usage, social distancing in the workplace, and other preventative steps, we give ourselves the best chance at preventing a near-term resurgence of this contagious and wily virus.