By Dr. Henning Ansorg, M.D., FACP, Health Officer, County of Santa Barbara Public Health Department
Coronavirus transmission is not the same for every activity, however there are some activities that are riskier than others are. It is recommended that six feet physical distancing always be maintained, no gathering with people other than those in your household, as well as wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth and practicing good hygiene.
It is important to understand why some activities may present a risk and how to address so all can make informed decisions.
Gathering of Friends of Family:
Right now, any gathering is strictly prohibited under the state and county stay at home order, as only individuals who reside in the same household may gather at any indoor or outdoor location. Getting together with family or friends who don’t live in your household is prohibited by the current County Health Order and comes with a high risk of infection.
Right now, indoor bars are mandated by the State to be closed. The nature of bars — mingling, crowded bar tops, and the likelihood of not wearing a mask while you are drinking — make bars a high-risk place for getting a coronavirus infection. It should be noted that alcohol can hinder decision-making, which could make those factors even worse.
Rituals like shaking hands, hugging and taking communion, as well as dense crowds and the prevalence of older people, make religious services a high-risk place for coronavirus infections. Once places of worship are allowed by the State to re-open, the risk can be lowered by social distancing, wearing masks, and abstaining from rituals that involve touching, eating or drinking. It should be noted that many religious organizations are offering online services that you may wish to check out.
Movie Theatres & Sporting Events:
While currently closed by the State, movie theaters or large events like concerts and sporting games have a high risk because of the crowding and likelihood of not maintaining a six-foot distance from others, especially when entering and exiting the venue.
MEDIUM TO HIGH RISK
New State orders have closed indoor gyms for the time being, although some gyms have made accommodations for outdoor exercising. Please remember that masks are required to be worn over your nose and mouth at all times. Also, equipment should be sanitized before and after each use, and social distancing should be enforced rigorously.
Indoor dining at restaurants, which is currently closed by the State, is risky because of airflow and people being together in an enclosed space for hours at a time. Many restaurants are currently offering take out and curbside pick-up. As re-opening occurs, some restaurants may expand their outdoor footprint to accommodate dining outside, which is preferable to indoor dining in the prevention of spreading the virus.
Hair & Nail Salons:
Hair and nail salons, which are currently closed by State order, are assessed at having a medium risk of infection. Once re-opening occurs, patrons and also employees should always wear masks, as it helps block particles from spreading as easily when you are speaking or coughing. It also discourages employees and customers from touching their faces. Salon employees must also wash their hands frequently.
Dates or Gatherings with a Small Known Group:
As with large group gatherings, small, known group gatherings with anyone that does not reside in your household is strictly prohibited at this time. Please do not gather with people living outside your household and when you do go out, such as for a walk or to the grocery store, always wear a mask and maintain six-foot distancing.
Social distancing on beaches is vital in lowering the risk of catching the coronavirus. Because of the many entry points for beaches, it is hard to enforce distancing, prompting officials to often close beaches on holiday weekends when large crowds are anticipated. If you go, remember to distance from others outside your household and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Once re-opened by the State, dining outdoors at a restaurant is a relatively low-risk activity because it allows air to flow more freely, as long as tables are kept at least six feet apart. Right now, Health Orders require that you only dine with people in your immediate household. You should still wear a mask as often as you can and be cautious of high-touch items like menus and condiments.
When you are on a hike or a walk in the park, you shouldn’t worry too much about quickly walking past another person on a path or trail. Be sure to maintain a distance of six feet from others at all times.
Outdoor activities are low risk if you stay with people from your own household. If you meet up with other friends or family, that still counts as a gathering, and is currently strictly prohibited.
Shopping in a grocery store or a clothing store can be low risk if you keep a distance from others and wear a mask. The place in stores with the most risk is the checkout, where interactions with cashiers or other customers could help spread the virus, so be aware of what you touch.
Touching Mail or Groceries:
There is a low risk of catching the coronavirus from touching your mail or other items like groceries. You should still be cautious about touching things like doorknobs and elevator buttons which are high touch things.
For more information about how you can prevent getting and spreading the coronavirus and what steps the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is taking to protect our communities, please visit: https://publichealthsbc.org/.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, M.D., FACP is a graduate of Justus-Liebig-University Medical School Giessen, Germany. He completed Residency training in Munich, Germany and Tucson, AZ and is board certified in Family Practice (Germany) and Internal Medicine (USA). Dr. Ansorg is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and is on the Medical Staff at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. He has many years of experience in different clinical settings including 10 years of Private Practice and Urgent Care in Munich, Germany as well as 11 years of Internal Medicine/Geriatrics in Arizona as well as 4 years at the Santa Barbara County Health Care Center. Dr. Ansorg has served as Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County since April 2019.