After months of restrictions and isolation, most of us are excited that Ontario has recently moved into Phase 3 of its reopening plan. While it’s exciting that things are starting to reopen, it can evoke fear and anxiety in many who want to ensure a safe transition back to a more social society.
Here are some tips to help you and your community enjoy a safe and healthy summer, both mentally and physically.
Many of us do not own a surgical-grade mask, but don’t worry – you don’t need one. The CDC recommends cloth masks for the general public. You can even make your cloth mask with this guide from the CDC. As a rule of thumb, try to wash your cloth mask once per day if you’re using it several times throughout the day. For surgical/disposable masks, they are only intended to be worn once. If you’re out of options though, Dr. Alon Vaisman, Infectious Diseases, Infection Control Physician at UHN, said as long as it hasn’t been damaged or contaminated, you can reuse it – but never for more than one day.
Mental health tips for combatting pandemic anxiety
If you’ve been feeling anxious, out of control, or overwhelmed by COVID-19 or the reopening, you are not alone. The pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health in addition to our physical health.
Make sure to use free resources available including UHN’s YouTube playlist with mindfulness exercises, calming meditations and more. The CDC also has an extensive list of resources you can access for free, located here. In a recent episode of From the Source, UHN’s Psychiatrist-in-Chief Dr. Susan Abbey gave some helpful tips to promote mental health during this challenging time. To summarize Dr. Abbey:
- Practise gratitude. At the end of every day, list three things that you’re grateful for.
- Connect with nature. Get outside, get to a park or, if you’re stuck in a condo, even bringing in some plants to your living space can help.
- Focus on what you can control rather than worrying about the things beyond your influence.
- Incorporate physical exercise into your routine in a way that works for you.
- Practise healthy sleeping habits and ensure you are getting enough rest.
- Keep connected with friends and family.
General guide to gatherings
Getting together with friends this summer may seem more complicated due to physical distancing rules, but if you remember some key principles, you can reduce the risk significantly. Only have close contact with people in your bubble, if you have a group that’s only agreed to have close contact with each other, you don’t have to worry about staying 6 feet away. You can socialize with people outside your bubble, as long as you’re maintaining physical distancing measures, wash your hands and use a mask in crowded public settings. Stay outdoors if possible when socializing, as there is a much higher risk of transmission in indoor spaces. Check out the Ontario Government’s guide to creating your social circle here.
Though your summer bucket list may look different compared to previous years, the summer is far from cancelled. Here are some ways to maximize the safety of your favourite summer pastimes.
Bring your glasses, cutlery and avoid shared dishes or open bowls of chips. Provide prepackaged or individually wrapped meals. Avoid providing shared dishes, and make sure to use sanitizer before and after fixing a plate. Alternatively, you can have one person (with washed hands and a mask) pre-portion plates.
Going to patios
Eating at a restaurant is naturally more high risk than sitting in your backyard, but we all need a break from our home cooking. Minimize your risk by continuing to practise physical distancing, washing your hands, and not staying longer than you need to. It’s also a good idea to pre-scout the patio you plan to visit to make sure they are practising proper distancing rules.
If you’re not comfortable with eating at a patio, support a local restaurant by ordering takeout, then head to a spacious park to enjoy the food with your friend.
Hiking and nature
The majority of transmissions of COVID-19 occur in indoor/confined spaces, so there is no better excuse to get out and explore nature this summer. Things like camping, fishing, cycling and hiking are all generally low risk when you maintain physical distancing. If you’re meeting someone at a certain spot, make sure to take separate cars to get there unless they are in your household or bubble or if everyone self isolates for 14 days before the trip.
Outdoor pools and lakes are low risk, indoor pools are medium risk, and when it comes to hotel hot tubs and pools, it’s better to avoid them. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that the virus can be spread by water itself, however, physical distancing in the pool environment is mandatory.
Avoid close proximity with others, yelling kids (as they exhale more droplets), commonly touched surfaces like handrails, and crowded indoor spaces like the change room as these are the highest risk. Always maintain 6 feet away from other patrons.
The transition back to whatever our “new normal” is will be challenging – but with knowledge and diligence, we can make the best of it. By taking the necessary safety precautions and also making sure to pay attention to our mental health we can get back to a safe and social society.
And when in doubt, remember what President and CEO of UHN, Dr. Kevin Smith, said: “It’s not complicated: wear a mask.”