Businesses across Texas are starting to reopen today, but Dallas is still in the midst of a pandemic. You can officially go eat at a restaurant or take a trip to the mall, but what, exactly, should you be doing this weekend? Is it a bad idea to visit the businesses that are opening their doors? Then there’s the matter of socializing in private spaces–can you have friends over again? Is it okay if you gather outside and keep a distance?
The governor’s orders give us a little bit of freedom, but they also left us with a lot of questions about how we can keep ourselves and others safe. We turned to a common source, Dr. Mark Casanova, president of the Dallas County Medical Society.
If you’re considering going out this weekend, Casanova says the first order of business is doing a simple, honest self-assessment.
“Am I, myself a high risk individual?” If you’re over 65, you have underlying medical conditions, or you’re immunocompromised, the answer is yes.
Do you live with or care for someone who’s a high risk individual? Your actions could directly impact their health. And, as Casanova notes, everybody is at risk in this situation.
“It’s not untrue that generally speaking, younger healthy individuals do well, and high risk categories are those that are older. But we saw in Lancaster the loss of a 17-year-old. We are seeing 20- and 30-year-olds succumb to this. So, I think it’s important for us to remind the public that when we, in medicine and public health and healthcare, make statements like, generally speaking, younger individuals do better, generally speaking, older individuals do worse, that those are generalities.”
Next, ask yourself, “Do I really need to go do this?” Determine whether you’re fulfilling an essential need or an emotional one. You can support your favorite local restaurant by ordering takeout, but do you really need to sit on the patio for brunch? Probably not.
“I say that with my own personal balance of saying that…I do hope we can support our businesses. For example, I’ve made it a point, at least two nights a week, my family and I get take-out for that solitary purpose of supporting restaurants,” says Casanova. The same goes for choosing retail to-go over in-store shopping. “The message from healthcare is not, you know, deprive this business, it’s just, do it in as safe a way as possible. Hands down, getting a meal to-go is safer than sitting in a [restaurant.]”
“So ask yourself all those questions until–and let me emphasize it–until we’re in a better situation.”
We’ll know that we’re in a “better situation” when there has been a steady decline in new cases over a 14-day period; a steady decline in hospitalizations and ICU admissions over a 14-day period; hospitals well positioned to care for a surge in cases; adequate personal protective equipment for hospitals, first responders, and health care providers; the public fully embracing physical distancing, including wearing face masks; ample numbers of tests and the workforce in the public health arena to do the tracking, tracing, etc. Dallas hasn’t hit those marks yet.
So, then, what about those not-quite-going-out activities? Unfortunately, meeting up with friends–whether it’s in your own home or with six feet of distance in a park–is still a no-no. Things like “distance picnics” are nice in theory, but they’re just not practical.
“I go out for a walk, and I walk by and I see an uplifting scene, a couple of neighbors with chairs that are adequately spaced six feet apart. By the time I’m coming back from my walk, what I see is that all the chairs are now about two feet from each other. You’ve got two dogs running between everybody’s legs. You have four kids that are running around. So, I just think that it’s human nature … that you’re going to inch closer,” says Casanova.
And he gets it: We’ve been stuck at home for a while now, we miss our friends, we miss our normal lives. But we’re doing ourselves a favor by laying low for a while longer.
“Staying at home is hard. This is going to be harder, because now we have the opportunity to go out there, and there’s going to be a very normal, and maybe even arguably appropriate, response of elation and excitement,” says Casanova. “I think we need to embrace that as, ‘Hey listen, we quot-unquote ‘got it right’ in North Texas.’ However, with every ounce of elation and excitement and and desire to run out there, our ask is that folks sort of countermeasure that with with just taking a few deep breaths and saying, ‘do I absolutely positively really need to?’”
Answer that question honestly before you venture out this weekend. The choices you make could help keep Dallas on track towards reaching that better situation.
“There is room for positivity. There is room for hope. There is room for congratulations. But you know, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that…it’s a long road ahead of us.”