As COVID hotspots begin to lift restrictions and reopen, here's what you can do to stay safe

Abby Haglage
·5 min read

California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s stay-at-home order this week, which may allow restaurants to resume outdoor dining and gyms to begin operating again. Health officials say the decision was motivated by projections about intensive care unit capacity, but others insist it was the result of political pressure and major lawsuits the state faced on behalf of business owners.

Either way, the move comes just days after California became the first state to exceed 3 million cases of COVID-19, leading some to worry that the reopening may be premature. But Dr. Armand Dorian, chief medical officer at University of Southern California’s Verdugo Hills Hospital, says that even the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic can reopen if the proper infection prevention measures are in place.

Diners eat on the patio of a restaurant behind a large sign reading "We are open! Welcome back"
Diners eat on the patio at Fish Camp in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday. The restaurant was closed since early Dec. 2020 but has reopened for patio dining. (Photo: Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

That’s good to know, since California isn’t the only state to begin easing restrictions. On Jan. 9, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon lifted the state’s curfew, which required restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m., and increased capacity at gyms. Three days prior, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi reopened beaches, marinas and pools. As other states work on their own reopening plans, here, according to Dorian, is a look at why past reopenings have failed and what Americans can do better this time around.

Yahoo Life: Can California reopen these establishments safely with such a high level of cases?

Armand Dorian: It can definitely happen safely. Everything can be done safely as long as people follow appropriate protocols. I work in an environment where people with COVID-19 come to — the ones who are the sickest, who are spreading the illness — and our rates of infection in the hospital are extremely low to almost zero because we have a protocol. So everything is possible.

Multiple states have tried reopening, but then cases spike. Why does that happen?

What you see is no different than what happens to kids when it's summertime. You run out the door from school, you’re like, “Yipee!” and you throw your books in the air and say “I’m done.” That’s what happens to humans when they say we’re reopening, they’re like, “Yipee, we’re done, masks off, we’re free again” — and that concept is what burns us.

So what should Americans know about these reopening plans?

There isn’t an immediate consequence to what you do. Whenever we mess up, the consequence that we see in the hospital starts trickling in two weeks later. So you would have to get infected [with COVID-19] or go somewhere where somebody is infected and spreads it to you, and by the time it harbors inside of you, that’s another eight days before you decide to get tested... When we talk about ICU and mortality rates [increasing], that’s another two or three weeks into that. So it’s a disconnect.

How can restaurants ensure they are reopening safely, and that customers are staying safe?

It’s boring yet simple, the same thing we know that works: You mask, you distance, you sanitize. Your tables are 10 feet apart. You don’t have more than four to five people per table. You only dine with your core group. Dining outdoors doesn’t mean it’s dining with others. That’s a big misconception. We’re allowing you to use the restaurant to eat outside, not allowing you to eat outside with a bunch of other people.

Should individuals consider wearing two masks to places like this?

Look, I walk around in the hospital every day wearing one mask. It’s not an N95, it’s a surgical mask, and I’ve been fine. That’s all you need. There are certain situations where double masking has been mentioned in scientific literature, but that’s not going to a restaurant or to the grocery store.

Aside from masks, hand-washing and social distancing, are there other ways to increase safety?

There are some really cool gadgets and devices that I think people need to start adopting into their normal life. For example, there are UVC light bands that you put on your wrist, or a wand, and you can use it to quickly sanitize. We’ve been using this technology in the medical field for 20 years. It creates confidence. You go into the restaurant, and it creates a personal space or environment of cleanliness. That allows the anxiety of dining out to go away so that you can start relaxing. And that's the whole point, right?

President Biden has made a plan to get 100 million shots of the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of Americans in his first 100 days. Will we reach a point where we no longer need these precautions?

If we have our country vaccinated, we’re not talking about COVID anymore. It’s that simple. Or if we are, it barely hits the news. We need to get everybody vaccinated. All this frustration and anger, and wanting everything to reopen, I don’t know why we don’t use that energy for the process of distributing these vaccines. When everyone is vaccinated, you know what COVID becomes? The common cold. Like, “Oh you have the sniffles, a cough? Stay home for two days and come back.” It won’t be an issue because everybody who’s been vaccinated, their body will be prepped for dealing with COVID and, at least 95 percent of the time, it’s an illness that won’t require hospitalization. It’ll all be stuff you can manage at home.

Well, I look forward to that day.

Trust me, we all do.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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