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Early in the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said something that grabbed a lot of attention: Handshakes should become a thing of the past.
It sounded far-fetched.
But as the outbreak drags on, and we’ve become more conscious of germs and hygiene, “some of the changes we made are likely to be really durable,” said Malia Jones, who researches social environments and infectious disease exposure at the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Blowing out the candles on your cake.
The tradition of singing around a birthday cake and blowing out the candles could fade.
“Spit all over the cake has always been disgusting to me,” said Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
It’s the singing of “Happy Birthday” that actually poses a greater risk when it comes to spreading droplets that could carry respiratory illnesses, such as the novel coronavirus, said Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. It’s best to take the singing outside, she said, and to spread out, too.
Taking a drag from a friend’s vape.
If you still smoke tobacco, you already know you should quit, but now there’s an added risk in a shared vape or cigarette. As for marijuana, more users are turning to edibles during the pandemic.
Legal sales of edibles increased by 32.1 percent the week of July 20 compared with the week of Jan. 6 in California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington, according to data from Headset, a cannabis market research firm, and inhaled items like pre-rolled joints and vapor pens underperformed compared with the marijuana market as a whole.
“It is unlikely that many people would feel comfortable passing a joint around a circle of friends these days,” said Cooper Ashley, a senior data analyst at Headset. Dr. Hassig said sharing swigs or smokes could spread any respiratory illness, not just the coronavirus.
Letting your kid jump into a ball pit.
Swimming around in a pool of plastic — a material cited by experts to be especially good at harboring germs — could become a thing of the past, at least at McDonald’s restaurants.
“I don’t know if we’ve got ball pits in our future,” McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, recently told Time. “There’s probably some good public-health reasons not for us to be doing a lot of ball pits.”
Getting a quick after-work makeover.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to try new makeup — or give yourself a free makeover between the office and after-work drinks — you could head for the testers or samples at Sephora, Ulta or department stores. Just don’t think too hard about who used the brush or lipstick sample before you. Saks Fifth Avenue is one store making changes. Reusable samples have been replaced with single-use, disposable items, its chief executive told The New York Post.
Fumbling around an escape room.
Trapped in an enclosed room on a timer, you and your friends touch, poke and slide objects in hopes of unlocking the next clue, touching the same surfaces, breathing the same air.
Escape rooms have now gone virtual. What does that look like? One escape room operator in Florida taped a phone to his chest and participants called with instructions over videoconference. Not quite the same.
Bumping elbows at a loud, crowded bar.
After months of distancing, mask wearing and nixing small talk in public, will we be shouting in one another’s faces at bars or clubs again? Experts hope not.
“Social distancing is going to become a common norm at this point,” Dr. Nolan said.
Having a conversation with someone up close, especially when people are talking loudly or excitedly in a setting where alcohol is flowing and music blaring, is risky, Dr. Nolan said, advising that calm, low-volume, conversation is safer.
Your behavior in social situations will be shaped by how people around you act, said Jeanine Skorinko, a social psychology professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. If your group keeps social-distancing rules, talks quietly and avoids sharing drinks, you’re likely to follow suit.
This Georgia Tech website will assess the risk of attending an event based on the county it’s in and the number of people who are going.
Plunging a handful of straws into a giant party cocktail.
You know those comically large shared alcoholic drinks? Sometimes they are called scorpion bowls. They might feature plastic fish swimming around in a plastic fish bowl. Or the drink might be a Moscow Mule fit for an actual mule, served in a copper mug the size of a flower pot.
Those giant party cocktails are backwash buckets, epidemiologists said.
Dr. Nolan said the alcohol could potentially kill whatever comes through the straw, though Dr. Hassig warned that some germs and viruses “could survive a dunk into a drink.” If these drinks ever come back, share them only with close roommates.
Hosting a poker game or a Settlers of Catan night.
Having friends over to your place might be better than going out, because at least you can control whom you’re in close contact with. But hosts should consider inviting “individuals of a similar kind of risk tolerance,” Dr. Hassig said.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 6, 2020
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
- Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers. It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
And you might want to have those gatherings outside, if possible, experts said.
Dealing and shuffling cards, or leaning over a board to manipulate tiles, cards, dice and other pieces may be risky. Dr. Nolan suggested playing games that do not require contact with other players. Charades, anyone?
(It should be noted that popular card games and board games like Scrabble, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride have apps that can be played with a group using phones, tablets or computers.)
Passing the microphone at karaoke.
Passing a mic around a group of friends and singing (if you can call it that, for some of us) in a small room goes against the epidemiologists’ guidance to avoid singing or to do it outdoors. In Japan, where the virus is under better control and karaoke is widely popular, a karaoke industry association advised establishments to ask patrons to wear masks and to limit the number of people in a room.
The days of mindlessly wandering the mall were already on the way out, and the coronavirus could be the nail in the coffin for serendipitous retail therapy.
Intentional online shopping on platforms like Amazon can’t offer “stumble-upon, surprise-discovery” experiences, said Jaclyn Johnson, chief executive of Create & Cultivate, which opened a pop-up shop in Culver City, Calif., last month.
The shop is an “online, offline hybrid,” Ms. Johnson said. Shoppers can browse items online or through shop windows and pick up their purchases at the store or have them delivered by Postmates, the delivery app. She hopes this retail model will outlast the pandemic.
Shaking hands, hugging a friend, kissing a cheek.
Back to Dr. Fauci and handshakes. What are the alternatives? The elbow bump — in all its clunky, awkward glory — could be a long-term alternative, Dr. Hassig said.
But there’s good news about hugging: It’s less risky than a peck on the cheek and even a handshake, Dr. Nolan said, because we normally turn our faces away from each other while hugging.
Even so, all these greetings bring people in close contact when it’s often unnecessary.
“There are greetings that have worked for centuries” that don’t involve touching one another, Dr. Hassig said, citing the wai in Thailand, which involves putting your hands together in a prayer-like fashion and bowing slightly.
She also suggested waving from a distance.
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