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10 Ways to Know if it's Safe to Go Back Outside

Here's how to know when it's totally OK to go "back to normal."
Senior woman with face mask outdoors with shopping, corona virus and quarantine concept.

With all the conflicting information being reported, you might be confused about when it's safe to go back outside, given the pandemic. So we asked doctors their opinion about how to tell if it's truly safe to end self-isolation and get "back to normal." Here's what they said.

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1

When We Have a Vaccine

Doctor disinfects skin of patient before vaccination
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"Getting the mass of the population vaccinated is the only way to really increase safety dramatically," says Dr. Benjamin Ticho. "So, the shortest answer to the question is: a couple months after widespread vaccination is implemented."

"While we wait for the vaccine, in order to return to 'normal' we must see a decline in the total number of COVID-19 cases which is currently happening in parts of the country," says Dr. Khawar Siddique, DOCS Spine + Orthopedics

2

When We Have Antibody Testing

Male And Female Scientists Using Microscopes In Laboratory
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"One key will be each person's ability to take a blood test and determine whether or not he or she has made antibodies to COVID-19," says Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C, medical expert at RxSaver. "If you have the antibodies, you can be more certain (but not 100% certain) that it's safe to re-engage."

"Widespread testing can be done to determine who is already immune so they can be let back out into society even in highly contagious areas," says Dr. Virginia Thornely. 

3

When We Have Herd Immunity

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"If a large group of people—the herd—is immune to a virus, then an individual in the middle of this group is unlikely to become infected," writes Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, American Heart Association Chief Medical Officer for Prevention. "The virus has a very hard time getting through the herd. Herd immunity, then, happens when people in a community are protected from a virus and its associated disease to a degree that people who are not immune are still protected because of the high population immunity."

4

When There Are No More Carriers

woman outdoor wearing medical face mask, social distancing, sitting on a bench, isolated from other people
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"From a scientific perspective, self-isolation stops when the last person has recovered," says Virginia Thornley, M.D. "Even when restrictions are lifted, so long as one person is infected in the community, it is best to keep your guard up and practice social distancing and frequent handwashing. And wear a face mask."

5

When We Flatten the Curve

Doctor wearing protective gloves holding Flatten the Curve chart, sitting at the desk in front of laptop computer
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"We need to wait until the trajectory is battered down so far that a bit of a new upswing couldn't trigger the whole thing off again," says Dr. Sharryn Gardner, Peads ED Consultant. "Like the even worse wave two in the Spanish Flu epidemic."

6

So Should You Listen to Your State Officials When They Say it is Safe—Even if They Disagree With Health Experts?

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp
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"This is a judgment call," says Dr. Christine Traxler. "Some states are opening before health officials say it is really safe for people to be near others. The reason health experts say this is because not enough testing has been done or because the rate of infection is increasing in the state. It means that your chances of getting the infection are higher than if the rates of infection are known and have been found to be low in your community."

7

What Should You Do if You Are Not Immune, and Both the Governor and Health Officials Say You Can Begin to Go Places?

Dressed in full protective gear a healthcare worker collects a sample from a mature man sitting inside his car as part of the operations of a coronavirus mobile testing unit.
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"This is a situation where testing has been done in your state on a large number of people. The health department has determined that the rate of infection is low and is decreasing. They have also determined that, if you get sick, there are enough healthcare resources to care for you," says Dr. Traxler. "These professionals will recommend which places you should be able to go safely and which social distancing recommendations you need to do to be as safe as possible."

8

Should You Listen to Your Boss if He or She Says Come to Work?

man in glasses feeling sick, wearing protective mask against transmissible infectious diseases and as protection against the flu in public transport/subway, using and looking at smartphone
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"Has the supervisor or owner made it clear what the sick policies are and that these policies will be enforced?" asks Leann Poston, MD, a physician with Invigor Medical in New York. "Supervisors that provide the message that you need to follow the CDC guidelines for staying home, but then encourage you to come to work if you are not feeling well because deadlines need to be met give a conflicting message that increases risk in the workplace."

9

What if You Get Sick?

Woman being sick having flu lying on sofa looking at temperature on thermometer.
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"First and foremost, remember that if you have symptoms you need to self-isolate for at least 3-7 days after you are asymptomatic," says Dr. Robert Karsch from AICA Orthopedics. 

"Once you have the virus yourself, it is not safe to go outside in public until you have had at least two negative nasal swabs showing you no longer shed the virus," says Dr. Traxler.

10

What Else to Keep in Mind

Senior woman with face mask outdoors with shopping, corona virus and quarantine concept.
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"As governors reopen states, it's important to remain cautious when seeing elderly loved ones or visiting public places," says Dr. Karsch. "No one really knows what's going to happen, but we do know that social distancing will remain important even after we're all allowed to go back outside."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more