Safety Advice for Reopening
How to Reduce Your Risks As Coronavirus Lockdowns Ease

As communities and businesses across the country begin to reopen, more people are weighing whether—and how—they should head into work and, perhaps, visit restaurants, retail shops and hair salons. The safest move for most people is still to stay home as much as possible. But if you do go out, there are ways to reduce the risks. Here’s what the experts say:


Walking or biking to work or driving your own car are the safest options. If you must use public transportation, wear a face mask and be really cautious about hand hygiene - using hand sanitizer and washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Taking a taxi or using Uber or Lyft is generally less risky than the bus or train, particularly if the driver is wearing a mask. You’re likely near only one potentially infectious person rather than the dozens on public transportation, and the driver’s mask will provide some protection for the passenger.

In the Office

Some businesses are planning to bring back only a portion of workers to the office or are instituting shifts to allow for social distancing. Those moves are important, doctors say.

Elevators can be a problem since it is nearly impossible to keep an appropriate distance from other people in such a small space. Everyone should be wearing masks and face the wall so you’re not breathing in someone else’s breath.

Surfaces like elevator buttons, doorknobs and printer buttons should be disinfected regularly. Even so, employees should use a tissue or paper towel to handle them and immediately use sanitizer or wash their hands.

The office bathroom is the real hot zone. It is suggested to wait until no one else is in the bathroom to use it. Avoid the hand dryers, too, since the forced air very effectively disseminates virus everywhere. Use a paper towel on doorknobs and to turn faucets on and off, too. And, it goes without saying: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

At a Restaurant 

The National Restaurant Association has released “Covid-19 Reopening Guidance” that includes recommendations such as spacing tables at least 6 feet apart, providing hand sanitizer for customers and eliminating unwrapped straws from self-service drink stations.

Benjamin Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University, who co-authored the restaurant recommendations, says the biggest risk in restaurants is being around other people. He suggests avoiding any crowds that can occur while waiting for tables or clustered at the bar. Donald K. Milton, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, says outdoor dining is safest since there will be more ventilation and air flow.

Dr. Chapman notes that restaurants should either be using paper menus that are thrown away after every patron or disinfecting reusable menus between customers. Even better would be to avoid physical menus altogether by downloading the menu on your phone. Customers should be wary of all high touch surfaces like salt and pepper shakers, pens and those little leather holders that waitstaff use to present your check. Hand sanitizing and hand washing are key here.

In a Retail Store

Supermarkets, liquor stores and hardware stores, among others, have been operating throughout the pandemic and have employed social-distancing measures like limiting the number of shoppers, keeping people apart in checkout lines and encouraging shoppers to order online and have items delivered or picked up. Other retailers could quickly adopt these practices. But public-health experts urge people to limit nonessential shopping trips. 

At the Hairdresser or Barbershop

Doctors urge people to postpone trips to the salon until there’s more evidence that community transmission of the novel coronavirus is very low. If you do go to the hairdresser or barber shop, people are going to be really close for an extended period of time, so it is important that both client and professional wear masks. It probably is safer to have your hairdresser make a house call (if he or she is willing) and cut your hair outside in your backyard.

Outdoor Exercise

As long as you can maintain social distance, public health experts generally agree that solo outdoor exercise is safe. Golf courses are now open in many states. As long as golfers can maintain an appropriate social distance on the course, there isn't a serious threat. The bigger concern is people gathering in the clubhouse having drinks together afterward. Tennis is relatively low-risk, too, since people are usually far apart and outdoors—as long as you maintain distance. Avoid touching your face, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands after handling the ball. Basketball and soccer are more concerning since people do literally get in each others’ faces.

With more beaches open, swimming in the ocean or in a lake or surfing should be fine if you keep your distance from other people. That is the same for pools as chlorine kills the virus.

At the Gym
Health experts suggest waiting to head back to the gym. You’ve got everybody huffing and puffing, coughing, touching everything. It would be difficult to decontaminate things often enough or reliably enough to make it safe to go back to doing free weights or weight machines until we can be confident enough that any one person in the gym isn’t carrying infection.

In a Movie Theater
Movie theaters are now allowed to open in Georgia and Texas. But even if theaters implement strict social-distancing protocols like blocking out rows and spacing family groups 6 feet apart, the problem is that people spend such a long time (sometimes two hours or more) sitting in them. That gives people that many more opportunities to breathe in any virus that may be lingering in the air.