Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle, M.D., addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about safety in public as individuals and families make plans for the summer months while protecting themselves against the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Is it safe to fly?
“I can tell you I’ve done it personally,” Dr. Allison Suttle said. “It is safe to fly.”
She says airlines are doing a wonderful job of really cleaning and wiping down all of the surfaces between flights.
“The flight I took, they handed out alcohol wipes. You’re required to wear a mask when you’re in the airplane,” Dr. Suttle said. “I noticed, in all of the airports, nearly everyone was wearing a mask. There were not a lot of restaurants open. Everyone stood in line six feet a part. I washed my hands a lot.”
It is safe to fly, she says, if you follow those basic safety precautions: physical distancing, wash hands and wear a face mask.
Is it safe to go to the beach?
“I do think it is safe to go to the beach — for one reason,” Dr. Suttle said. “For starters, you’re outdoors.”
She says the outdoor breeze does not allow the virus to hover. But it’s important to maintain social distancing.
“If it’s a crowded beach and you’ll be next to someone for a long period of time, make sure it’s someone you know and you know where they’ve been, perhaps a family member that you’re comfortable being close to.”
In those more congested areas, even outdoors, she suggests wearing a mask.
Is it safe to go to the dentist?
Yes. As everyone levels up their safety efforts, businesses are working to create barriers between the public and the virus.
“Plus, you’re putting your own barriers in place by wearing a face mask, washing hands and staying at least six feet apart,” she said.
Many dentists have added screening measures and now require masks and face shields for all of their dentists and hygienists working with patients.
“With those protections in place, it’s important to get your dental care. Dental care can have an impact on your overall health care so I would encourage getting into your dentist.”
Is it safe to get a haircut?
Yes. The simple things you want to follow include wearing a face mask and make sure the hair stylist is wearing one, too.
“A haircut can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or longer. With that close contact with that one individual, as long as you wear face masks, you should be OK,” she said.
Is it safe to travel?
Yes. Plan ahead. Not all restaurants, rest stops or hotels will be open right now.
Dr. Suttle suggests home rental through companies like VRBO or Airbnb to avoid the larger crowds you typically find at hotels.
“It is very safe to travel,” Dr. Suttle said. “Always remember to avoid close and confined spaces, large crowds, stay six feet a part, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently.”
Is it safe to NOT wear a mask?
No. Human behavior spreads the disease.
“The whole point behind wearing a mask is to protect yourself and someone else if you, or they, might be infected and don’t know it. The likelihood of me — or someone close to me getting sick — drops if I wear a mask.”
If we all stopped wearing masks and crowding public spaces, we would inevitably see another spike and potentially overwhelm the health care system. Continuing to do the things we’re doing, we’ll still see some cases as expected, but the numbers will be more manageable.
“We need to be careful about those who are very vulnerable: the elderly, those with multiple chronic conditions, obesity,” Dr. Suttle said. “Those individuals are likely to become very sick with the virus as opposed to someone who is young and healthy who may get the virus and not even know it or suffer some mild flu-like symptoms and get back to normal.”
Is it safe to order takeout?
Yes. Dr. Suttle says people often wonder if COVID-19 can be transmitted through prepared food and the answer is no.
“Typically, the way COVID-19 transfers is through aerosols from someone else’s lungs which then get into your mucous membranes,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to wear a mask to prevent those particles from spreading.”
If the particles were to land on your prepared food, you’d ingest the virus but your stomach gases would likely kill it. You would not be able to get the virus by eating prepared food.
Additionally, most restaurants and businesses have added new measures and barriers to protect the business and patrons from potentially transmitting the virus.
Is it safe to go to the pool?
Yes. There’s nothing about being in the water that causes COVID-19 to spread more.
“COVID-19 won’t be able to live in the water.” Dr Suttle says. “It spreads through the air. Droplets come from my lungs and travel to your mucous membranes. … Outdoor pools will have lots of ventilation so the virus won’t stick around. Even indoor pools are usually quite large spaces. Going to the pool is fine.”
Safety precautions like hand-washing and social distancing still apply and are highly encouraged when visiting the pool.
Is it safe to go back to school?
Great question, Dr. Suttle said. Schools are working to put a lot of barriers in place to protect students from the virus including testing employees and deep cleaning buildings. However, studies have shown kids are much less likely to get severe illness.
While it will be important to get kids back into the classroom to engage, socialize, learn and be physically active, they’ll need to be careful about exposure to those who are most vulnerable of getting very ill if they transmit COVID-19.
Is it safe to go back to work?
“Going back to work is a big question and it can be scary for many people,” Dr. Suttle said. “I’ve talked to a lot of local businesses in Sioux Falls and looked over their plans, what they’ve put in place to protect their employees. I’m so impressed with our business community and the things they’ve put in place to protect their employees. It helps us as a health care system not to have an increased number of cases.”
Local businesses have used guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as they put coronavirus prevention measures in place. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your employer directly to learn more about what they have done to keep you safe at work.
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