You’re likely familiar with the tenets of Covid-19 prevention by now: Stay home when you can, keep 6 feet of distance from others when you’re out and wear a mask if you’re indoors or around other people.
We’ve been told to do these things for so long – around eight months now – that they feel like second nature. But it can be tempting to relax and stop following these suggestions as stringently.
Now is not the time.
Covid-19 is surging to dangerously high levels and breaking case records daily – over 11.4 million cases have been reported in the US alone, and nearly 250,000 people have died. Health experts have said winter may be the darkest period of the pandemic so far. That’s why it is essential that we must remain vigilant for our own health and for others in our communities.
To help you do that, we answered your biggest questions about social distancing.
Where can I go?
The grocery store and doctor’s offices are thought to be low-risk locations for Covid-19 infection, as long as you wear a mask, wash your hands before and after your visit and limit your time inside.
Restaurants, bars, places of worship and other indoor venues in many states have reopened, including some at full capacity. But it’s safer to dine and gather outdoors than indoors, where there’s steady air flow and more room to spread out, said Dr. David Aronoff, director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine.
Can I order takeout?
Yes. There’s no evidence that the virus can live in food, so whatever you eat should be safe. Just wash your hands before you eat it.
It’s also a good way to support your local businesses – ordering takeout helps restaurants and delivery drivers who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
The pandemic also brought us contactless delivery – Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center, suggests paying and tipping online and asking the delivery person to leave your food outside the door to avoid interaction.
Should I use public transportation?
If you can avoid it, you should. Packing into a crowded subway car or bus with poor airflow can heighten your risk of infection.
If you need to use public transportation to get to work, wear a mask, carry disinfecting wipes to clean seats and poles and wash your hands as soon as your commute is over.
If I still need to work, how can I keep myself safe?
Practice as much social distancing as your work allows. Wash your hands constantly and wear a face mask.
Can I still travel?
If you decide the risk is worth it. Traveling certainly puts you at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19, and if you’re asymptomatic, you could spread Covid-19 to other passengers.
But if you’re traveling, whether by plane, train or bus, you should wear a mask on the vehicle and in transportation hubs, like airports or bus terminals, the CDC advises.
It’s not safe to travel if you’ve been potentially exposed to another person with Covid-19.
You can also cut down on your cumulative risk if you choose to travel – don’t also dine indoors or attend a crowded event if you’re choosing to fly by plane, said said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician and visiting professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health.
And stay distant from others when you’re waiting at the gate, picking up your luggage or standing in the taxi line.
What should I do after I travel?
The CDC says you should quarantine for 14 days after you arrive at your destination.
During this time, you should take your temperature twice a day and monitor yourself for a fever. You should also avoid contact with others – so don’t go into work or school – and stay off public transportation.
Some states allow travelers to “test out” of the quarantine – but this varies by region. It’s best to check with the local authorities to see what precautions they have in place to stop the spread.
Should I wear a face mask in public?
Many states mandate their use indoors.
While face masks weren’t initially recommended – partly out of fears that wearers would feel a false sense of security by wearing them – they’ve since been proven effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
You should wear a face mask when you’re indoors and anywhere in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, according to CDC guidelines. This includes places like grocery stores, schools or crowded sidewalks. Health officials still suggest you wear a cloth face mask instead of an N95 respirator.
You do not need to wear a mask if you’re outside and can keep ample distance from other people, Wen, the emergency room physician, said.
What’s the right way to wear a mask?
A mask should cover your mouth and nose and fit snugly around your face. (Learn more about the right and wrong ways to wear a mask here.)
Masks are thought to prevent the wearer from breathing out droplets that contain the virus and, as more recent evidence shows, protect the wearer from other people’s droplets if they’re not wearing a mask.
Can I go to the doctor or dentist?
You can, but some health experts think you should stay home unless you have an urgent appointment or are seeking help due to Covid-19 symptoms.
But it’s important not to put off health concerns if you have them, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. Your existing health issues could worsen during the pandemic if you don’t seek care for them.
If you do have a critical appointment, ask your provider about telehealth appointments that don’t require you to come into an office.
And if you think you’re experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, call a physician before showing up at an office so you don’t put yourself and others at a higher risk of infection.
Family & Friends
Who can I see right now?
Right now, the safest people to hang out with are the people you already live with. People who live outside of your home could expose you to Covid-19, or vice versa.
If you want to see friends or family, meet with them outdoors in a location where you can keep your distance from them. Wear masks throughout your meeting, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. It’s also not safe to hug or kiss people outside of your home during the pandemic.
Exercise extra caution when it comes to older family members – adults over 60 are at a higher risk of serious infection from Covid-19, and you could unwittingly infect them, even if you don’t feel unwell.
Keep in touch with them over the phone or with video calls. If they live nearby, offer to help them with groceries or medications they may need while home, and visit through a window or glass door.
Is it safe to continue to send my child to school?
School safety during the pandemic isn’t well-studied, but recent research has shown that children don’t get as sick as adults do if they’re infected with Covid-19. Children are thought to be carriers for the virus, though, and if community spread is high in your area, virtual classes may be safer than in-person schooling.
Can I take my kids to daycare?
If it’s your best option for childcare, then yes. But before you do, call the daycare center or meet with staff to ensure they’re implementing social distancing measures and making health conscious choices.
If you work with a regular babysitter or nanny, use caution. They should be keeping themselves healthy on their own – avoiding indoor gatherings and wearing a mask in public – but they may be putting themselves at risk while commuting to work. Have a talk with them to be sure everyone’s on the same page.
Do I need to distance myself from my child?
Probably not, unless either of you are showing symptoms of sickness, said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health.
Under most circumstances, if you and your child are living in the same home, you don’t need to keep six feet of distance. But if possible, limit excessive physical contact.
If they’re younger, that certainly gets more difficult to pull off.
How long will we have to keep social distancing and wearing masks?
It’s hard to say, but probably well into 2021.
While Moderna and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines have both released promising results, they’ll be given to high-risk people like health care workers and older adults first before the general public can access them.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that a vaccine won’t eliminate the need for wearing masks and social distancing, so we will likely need to continue to do both even after a vaccine becomes widely available.
Hang in there – if everyone makes these responsible choices we’ll get through the pandemic together.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest guidance from government health officials
CNN’s Holly Yan contributed to this report.