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As COVID-19 cases surge in Spokane County, tips for staying social at a distance

UPDATED: Wed., July 29, 2020

Pedestrians wear masks as they walk in front of a sign reminding the public to take steps to stop the spread of coronavirus on July 23, in Glendale, California.  (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)
Pedestrians wear masks as they walk in front of a sign reminding the public to take steps to stop the spread of coronavirus on July 23, in Glendale, California. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)
By Dr. Bob Riggs For The Spokesman-Review

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen COVID-19 cases spike in Spokane County, and with our beloved community events like Hoopfest getting canceled, these serve as cautionary reminders that we’re not out of the woods just yet.

With this renewed focus reminding us the risks of this pandemic are still at play, it is more important than ever for our community to work collectively to curb and control the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to continuing to practice proper social distancing, washing hands and wearing facial coverings in public, understanding the different risk levels associated with various activities can help us all make safer, individual choices that collectively help us fight back against the virus.

Here is a look at a few situations, ranging from high to low risk, as well as a few suggestions for alternative activities that can help keep you healthy and social at a safe distance.

Higher-risk activities

Public activities, especially large gatherings, pose greater risk overall. Visiting a gym, attending religious services and a night out to the movies all increase the potential for exposure to the virus. As a music lover myself, this also means concerts are off-limits.

One alternative I can speak to (after consulting your neighbors) is to host a “porch performance” for those on your street who can “attend” as easily as opening a window. It is a fun and unexpected way to give music lovers a taste of the concerts they’ve been missing without anyone having to even leave the neighborhood.

That said, it is important to stay socially distant even with your neighbors. For many, being unable to visit family members in retirement centers and nursing homes has been especially trying during these times.

While centers with high-risk populations have made strides in curbing the spread of the virus, it is still not advised to visit loved ones who fall into a high-risk category, especially those living near other vulnerable individuals. As an alternative, consider arranging a digital family “reunion” or sending snail mail.

Medium-risk activities

I think that going to the grocery or hardware store is getting safer with more businesses asking all patrons to wear masks, but as acceptance of this is still less than universal, these outings pose some risk.

I have a patient with COVID-19 right now who is not sure where they got it and whose only exposures of which they are aware is going to the grocery store. While this patient was masked, not everyone shopping was. Fortunately, at this time, the patient is doing OK.

Lower-risk activities

As restaurants start seating customers again, there’s still a significant risk posed with dining out, especially for tables indoors. Beginning July 30, dining with those outside your household will no longer be allowed.

Consider picking up your meal to-go as the lowest-risk way to enjoy offerings from your favorite restaurants. Take advantage of low-risk ways to keep in touch with friends like online hangouts, and enjoy outdoor spaces that have plenty of open air and social distance.

Small gatherings with fewer than five individuals are currently allowed, but don’t share food, utensils, beverages, plates or cups. Keep your catch-up limited to conversation only, as backyard gatherings are contributing to the uptick in transmission.

It’s normal to miss our friends, pas times and hobbies. Humans are social creatures, so it’s natural we miss venturing out and doing the activities we love. In the meantime, a little creativity can go a long way.

Remember: We can’t afford to throw in the towel – or mask – just yet.

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.

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