As people look to resume outdoor activities, there is growing concern over the risks they face of novel coronavirus infection. But not all outdoor activities carry the same level of risk, and it is important that people are judicious in what they do once they venture out of their homes. This is crucial to keeping the epidemic in check as lockdown restrictions are progressively relaxed.
The critical thing to understand is that the risk to infection is directly proportional to the duration of potential exposure to the virus, and to the viral load that one is exposed to. For instance, an infected person emits about 20 viral particles per minute during the normal process of breathing. But when the infected person speaks, between 200 and 2,000 viral particles could be ejected per minute. This can go up to as high as 200 million particles when the person coughs or sneezes. Quite obviously, proximity to an infected person who is coughing exposes one to much greater risk. The emitted viral particles can remain in the air for a few hours in a poorly ventilated environment.
It is important to know the risks involved in different activities – and to carry them out depending on how essential they are. Based on criteria used by the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, and the World Health Organisation, here is an indicative list of activities graded according to the risk of infection they carry. The risk categorisation assumes that people wear masks and follow the usual rules of physical distancing.
Low risk: Opening a mail or parcel potentially touched by an infected person; getting restaurant takeaways; playing a non-contact sport like tennis.
Moderately low risk: Shopping for groceries; going for a walk; running or biking with others; sitting in, say, a doctor’s waiting room.
Moderate risk: Shopping at a mall; working for a week in office; visiting elderly relatives; having dinner at someone’s place.
Moderately high risk: Visiting a hair salon or barber shop; dining at a restaurant; travelling by plane; playing a contact sport like football; attending a wedding or funeral; hugging or shaking hands.
High risk: Attending public events with many other people; visiting religious places.
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Let us now look at some of the precautions we need to take while carrying out some routine activities.
A walk in the park
* Keep your mask on and maintain distance from fellow walkers. Avoid resting on public benches. If you meet an acquaintance, remember to limit conversations to four minutes or less.
* The best time to walk is early in the morning, and for not more than 45 minutes.
* Once you return home, take a head bath. Wash clothes separately in hot water with bleach.
Risk Factor: Moderately low
* Avoid eating out if you can. Due to air conditioning, the risk of viral transmission in closed environments is high.
* Carry your own sanitiser, and avoid using restaurant washrooms.
* Order items that are well cooked.
Risk Factor: High
Going to office
* Try to ensure your office follows occupational safety protocols, including exhausts for ACs, negative pressure ventilation/air purifiers.
* Wear masks at all times.
* If you must use the office canteen, eat alone.
Risk Factor: Moderate to high
At the mall
* Avoid food courts and public restrooms.
* Keep your mask on, and spend as little time as possible at the mall.
* Avoid beauty salons.
Risk Factor: High
Entertaining at home
* Ask guests to remove their shoes outside, or provide them with shoe covers.
* Limit their movement to a single space. It will be easier to sanitise the seating area after guests leave.
* Avoid sharing food, sitting close, shaking hands, or hugging.
* Keep the elderly and children away.
Risk Factor: Moderate
Disclaimer: These suggestions are indicative. Please follow guidelines issued by the Health Ministry and local authorities. Consult medical practitioners when in doubt.
Dr Shashank Joshi is Dean of the Indian College of Physicians. Graphics
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