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Assessing COVID-19 Risk When There’s No Clear Answer

Americans are increasingly going out to restaurants, traveling for vacations and spending more time in groups. This is true despite the fact that as of mid-June, COVID-19 cases were rising in at least 20 states. With states continuing to move forward with phased plans to reopen non-essential businesses and allow larger public gatherings, many Americans have been left to make their own decisions about what activities to participate in.

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

As Jay Butler, the leader of the CDC’s COVID-19 response team said, “Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk right now.” Decisions might range from deciding on getting a haircut to whether it’s safe to take a weekend trip with family and friends who all live in different households. These discussions can get messy if everyone has a different view of what is safe, especially when there’s no clear line.

“We want to commend LIUNA members for following the procedures put in place by LIUNA signatory contractors to limit the spread of COVID-19 on jobsites,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “At the same time, we also want to ensure members have the tools and information they need to continue making safe choices off the job.”

Four Ways to Assess Your Risk

So how can you determine your comfort level and which activities cross the line for you? That answer may depend on a combination of your personal risk tolerance and whether you or family members are part of high-risk groups. Here are four different ways to look at risk that may help guide your decisions and jumpstart conversations.

  • Relative risk. The idea here is that everything we do carries some risk. For example, driving your car may not seem risky, but it’s one of the more dangerous things we do – about 38,000 people are killed in the U.S. in motor vehicle crashes every year. When it comes to COVID-19, relative risk goes up when we’re in close proximity to others (especially indoors) for extended periods of time. Decrease your risk by increasing distance between people and lowering the length of time you spend around others.

  • Pooled risk. This concept may be helpful for family and friends who have been apart but are considering seeing one another. The idea is that if everyone only participates in low-risk activities, the entire group should be reasonably safe spending time together. But if even one person starts engaging in high-risk behaviors, the entire group is at higher risk. Think of it this way: if you regularly spend time with the same group of people, anywhere you choose to go, you’re essentially taking those along people with you.
  • Cumulative risk. Because every activity carries some level of risk, the more person-to-person interactions you have, the greater your risk. Reduce your risk by limiting activities to only those that are necessary or important to you and spread out your risk over time. For example, if you had to go to the bank today and run errands, choose to delay going out to a restaurant for dinner until next week.
  • Collective risk. Lastly, consider the current overall risk in your state or community. Are cases still rising, flat or have they been dropping? If you’re planning on traveling, find out the status of COVID-19 cases at your destination. If you live in an area with significant ongoing community spread of COVID-19, consider whether it’s responsible for you to travel. 

CDC Tips for Going Out and Attending Events/Gatherings

The CDC’s “Deciding to Go Out” and “Considerations for Events and Gatherings” documents provide more information on resuming some daily activities without taking unnecessary risks. Here are some questions to consider before you go out or attend an event:

  • Have you had any recent interactions or been in new high-risk areas, that make it more likely you’ve contracted COVID-19 but don’t yet have symptoms?
  • Do you have a cloth face covering, tissues and hand sanitizer ready to take with you?
  • How many people are you likely to interact with? Are any of these people new interactions for you? 
  • If traveling with family and friends, can you find out what precautions others in your group have been taking? What precautions does everyone plan on taking during the activity or trip?
  • Will you be able to maintain at least six feet of distance and wear a face covering during the activity? If not, how much of that time will be in close proximity to others?
  • How long will this activity or interaction last?
  • Can you call ahead to the event or venue to find out what precautions the business is taking?
  • If you’ll be going out of state, have you confirmed whether different rules are in place at your destination?
  • Have you considered what circumstances are “dealbreakers” that would make you feel unsafe or change your plans?

No matter the activity, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions. Remember: the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

[Nick Fox]

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