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Way to protect yourself from COVID 19

Fr Dr Edsel Maurice Salvana

Opening up our economy is a scary but necessary exercise in the face of a global recession. And with the emergence of new variant threats, we need to be even more careful with what we prioritize. Some of the more controversial proposals include opening churches and cinemas to 50% capacity. Here is my PERSONAL take on what I will and will not do, assuming some of these proposals come to pass. Take note I am a 40 something year old medical doctor with no comorbids who sees COVID-19 patients in full PPE. I live with my inlaws who are 80 something year old doctors and two young kids. My wife is also a doctor and my father-in-law still sees patients daily:

1. Outdoors yes! But don't crowd.

COVID-19 transmission in wide open spaces with at least minimum health standards is pretty low risk. Getting exercise walking in a park or shoreline is healthy and can be done safely as long as people do not crowd. Studies have shown that more than ten people in close quarters is a risk factor, so whether inside or outside, do not crowd together. Outdoor gatherings should be approached with caution and should still follow physical distancing, masks and faceshields.

2. Mall with caution, and keep it as short as possible

Sometimes you need to get something in person - a haircut, an emergency tool you can't wait for, a passport renewal. Malls have done an excellent job of ensuring a safe shopping experience with masks, shields and distancing. However, not everyone complies all the time and I still see people with masks on their chins and faceshields raised on their heads. If you can keep it at less than an hour, that would be great. Less than 15 minutes is even better.

3. Physical church, cinemas, no for me for now

Churches are known to have caused superspreader events and with people singing and in an enclosed setting, it only takes a couple of noncompliant people to infect each other. The churches have done a good job with online masses, and please do donate what you would give at offertory anyway to keep them going.

Cinemas are a huge hazard - enclosed space, more than one hour. If someone starts eating popcorn, head for the exits. Personally I'm not going to set foot in a movie theater until I've completed my vaccination and even then I would still think twice. Netflix it is for me for now.

4. Restaurants - taking out is better

With the new variants having higher viral loads, there is increasing evidence people can get infected in less than 15 minutes if they remove their masks. Some restaurants use acrylic barriers and have good ventilation. Outdoor seating further decreases the risk. If you must eat in a restaurant, minimize removing your mask except to eat, and try not to have too many people without their masks talking at the same time, especially if you are from different households. Take out is the best of both worlds - you keep safe and still support your favorite restaurant.

People have different thresholds for risk. If you are young and live alone, you may feel some activities are less risky for you. I say this as someone who sees COVID-19 positive patients in PPE every day - I am not scared to do something if it is NECESSARY. But you have to balance life, health and economy so only you can find your sweet spot once the restrictions are relaxed. I know some people who have not left their homes since March and that's fine if you can afford to do that. For those of us who need to go out to see patients and earn a living, keeping the virus under control by sticking to best safety practices is what will keep EVERYONE safe in the long run. Stay safe!

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