Is opening a parcel as dangerous as meeting friends?

Know your risks during COVID-19

Story: Gautam Viswanathan

Although physical distancing is the need of the hour, the stresses it brings about might lead us to question how long it is expected to last.

Many of the things we do every day, for example, the things in life we considered ‘ordinary’ before the COVID-19 pandemic, do require us to have at least some form of physical interaction with those who provide us the things we consider essential.

Activities that form part of our daily routine, such as visiting a petrol station, going for a walk, shopping at a mall, a trip to the hairdresser’s, or even working out at a gym have been curtailed, and if frustration within you has been building because you really need the snip-snip of your barber’s scissors because your hair has now gone past your eyes, or you miss ploughing through the miles on a treadmill, a new report put out by the Texas Medical Association perfectly justifies the need to suspend such activities for the time-being.

The report lists several day-to-day activities, and ranks them from 1 to 10, in order of how likely someone doing them is to contract COVID-19. It has been welcomed by medical practitioners in the US and elsewhere, with Dr Steven J Stack, the Commissioner for Public Health in the US State of Kentucky said it provided “food for thought”.

Fortunately, solo activities are at the lower end of the infection spectrum. Opening a package or letter gives people only a one-in-ten chance of contracting the disease. Getting restaurant takeout, pumping gasoline, playing tennis, and going camping, all of which have limited public interaction and ample opportunities for social distancing built into them, have been given a score of two on 10, and are considered low-risk.

As we move up the scale, into those activities that involve greater interaction with the outside world, such as grocery shopping, going for a walk with someone else, or a round of golf, so does our likelihood of contracting the disease.

These, as well as others such as staying at a hotel, waiting in a doctor’s office, going to a museum, eating at an outdoor restaurant, walking in a busy section of a city, and spending an hour at a playground, have been classified by the TMA as having a moderate-low risk of infection, and have been given grades between three and four.

The information put out by the Texas Medical Association was also praised by oncologist Gil Morgan, who called it a “great diagram from the Texas Medical Association, showing on a scale from one to 10 the risk of getting infected. Is going camping as risky as eating at a restaurant? A great way to find out, but no matter what, use the mask,” he urged.

Expectedly, the closer the social interaction with others, the greater the chance of contracting the disease: something that is sure to frustrate those who’ve been waiting for a chance to hang out with their friends…you’re going to have to wait a bit longer: turns out that having dinner at someone else’s home, attending a BBQ, heading to the beach or out to a mall have a moderate risk of infection (five out of 10).

The ratings in many way validate the precautionary steps that have been put in place: sending your kids to school means they have a six in 10 chance of catching COVID-19, as does working in an office building, going to swim in a public pool, and heartbreakingly enough for many of us, visiting an elderly relative in their home.

Dr Natasha Bhuyan of the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, said in this context, “It’s helpful to understand that not all public activities are at equal risk of COVID-19 transmission. For example, grocery stores have been open this entire pandemic and are not hotspots.”

What’s worse for those of us who want to go out and meet friends, or return to the things we did before the pandemic, is those activities which are the most fun or ones to look forward to during the weekend are also the most likely to see us test positive for the disease.

Yes, you sure are looking forward to returning to gyms when they reopen, or enjoying a glorious buffet meal, or better still, catching the latest release at the cinema, but any of these activities provide you a high risk exposure to COVID-19, and have been given a rank of eight on ten on the scale.

An even higher risk of infection comes from attending large music concerts, going to a sports stadium, or participating in a religious service that has more than 500 attendees. Given the inherent dangers currently associated with doing some of the things we hold dear, it is evident that we will need to hold off from doing them.

At least for the time being…for the good of ourselves and society at large. – [email protected]