COVID-19 Is Out of Control. What Can We Do?

Public-health experts learned a lot over the spring and summer. Lockdown and stay at home are not just inaccurate terms; they are unnecessary measures. Outdoor activities are great and largely safe. Schools and child care can, with precautions, stay open unless community spread is extensive. Spread in schools and universities has generally occurred where safety measures such as mask wearing have not been implemented, or in social settings, not academic ones. To keep our kids physically in school, we need to skip after-school pizza parties and other nonessential activities.

Business meetings and work that can be remote should stay so. With modifications and masks, some work sites can open. Delivery, curbside pickup, and safer shopping can keep our economy recovering through the holiday season. We’ve learned what people care about, and getting haircuts and holiday shopping are high on the list, so let’s try to keep salons and retail stores open but make them safer by requiring masks, eliminating crowds, increasing ventilation, and encouraging workers and customers to stay home if they have symptoms. Physical activity is important to health, including mental health, so let’s modify facilities and participation to minimize risk while helping people stay active. Outdoor-recreation classes and individual activities such as walking, running, hiking, and cycling are safe. Well-ventilated gyms—with universal masking (yes, masks with face shields can be worn even while engaging in vigorous physical activity), strict cleaning protocols, and physical distancing—may be able to stay open.

Indoor restaurants, bars, and social gatherings are, sadly, unsafe right now. Low occupancy, increased ventilation, and masking when possible can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of COVID-19 in these places, especially when the virus is spreading widely. Curfews for restaurants and bars, which officials are implementing in different areas, will help some, but they don’t fully address the fact that any indoor place where people eat, drink, and socialize without masks for extended periods of time is problematic.

Governments should mandate mask wearing in all indoor public places and require business restrictions such as capacity controls and, where necessary, reduced hours or temporary closures. Comprehensive action is particularly important for places where COVID-19 spreads explosively, including meatpacking, agricultural, and other workplaces where distancing is difficult, as well as for congregate housing, including nursing homes, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities. In addition to universal mask wearing, these regulations should include installing physical barriers such as plexiglass shields, upgrading ventilation systems, and increasing space between people.

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