From picnics to swimming pools, coronavirus experts assess the risk of popular activities in the bay area


After months at home, foolishly scrolling through the Netflix home screen while isolated, Bay Area residents now want to return to the world.In a rush to reopen the economy, several counties in the region are loosening restrictions that were put in place in March to slow the spread of coronavirus, which means people can eat dinner again at Mission, plan a weekend at Lake Tahoe, or spend the day at the local swimming pool.
But as the virus continues to spread – and health experts are warning us that we may be going too fast – how do you determine what is safe?

“Don’t be silly,” said Dr. George Rutherford, head of the infectious diseases and epidemiology division at UCSF.

This means taking the usual safety precautions when you leave the house: wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, avoid crowded spaces and maintain a physical distance.

Resuming normal routines will require even more consideration, however, no matter how much you need a haircut.

“The virus does not listen to the radio, read the newspaper or watch CNN,” said Rutherford. “It is we who are trying to talk about our exit from biological phenomena with an organism whose sole purpose is to reproduce. ”

The Bay Area as a whole reports as many new cases each week as in the first days of the epidemic, reversing several weeks of declining numbers. The only difference is that heads of government are now leaving overly agitated people to sit down to assess their own personal risks.

“The virus is as contagious as it was three months ago,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “What has changed is our behavior. “

While the safest option is to stay at home until an effective vaccine or treatment option is developed for COVID-19, for those who feel the need to venture out during the pandemic, The Chronicle asked infectious disease experts to rate the risks of some popular activities in the Bay Area on a scale of 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk).

“You are going to have to take care of yourself,” said Rutherford.

Crowds socially distance themselves at Mission Dolores Park. (Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)

Picnic with friends at Dolores Park

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Draw hordes of bathers and picnickers on sunny days, Dolores Park is so popular that city officials have written physical distance circles in the grass. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes Dolores Park, described the scene as “very disturbing”.

Experts agree.

Although the risk of transmission is much lower outside than inside, this type of gathering should be avoided. But if you can’t resist an afternoon with friends, in addition to following basic safety precautions against coronaviruses, you should avoid sharing food, utensils and drinks; and avoid touching shared surfaces.

“Your friends have nothing magical if they get infected,” said Rutherford.

Paulette Baker, a longtime regular at Caffe Trieste, savored an Americano espresso in 2017. Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2017

Paulette Baker, a long-time regular at Caffe Trieste, savored an American espresso in 2017.

(Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2017 | Chronicle of San Francisco)

Get an espresso in North Beach

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Want to enjoy a cappuccino in a European-style cafe?

“Sit outside,” said Rutherford.

The risk of virus transmission is lower outside, but it is still a risk.

In a busy area, there is a chance that people will pass on the sidewalk without a mask. You can also come into contact with contaminated surfaces before they are properly disinfected, such as tables, menus, and utensils.

The risk also increases significantly the longer you stand by another person, especially if they are talking. One study found that normal speech can release thousands of droplets that can stay in the air for eight to 14 minutes.

It’s up to you to weigh the risk against the reward for that afternoon caffeine shake.

BLVD hotels have taken measures to protect customers with a “cold mist” of a solution of ethanol and hydrogen peroxide. Photo: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

BLVD hotels have taken steps to protect customers with a “cold mist” of a solution of ethanol and hydrogen peroxide.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times | San Francisco Chronicle)

Stay in a hotel on the way to L.A.

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Experts do not recommend traveling for leisure during the pandemic. But if necessary, find a hotel that clearly discloses its cleaning practices and offers a buffer period between guests staying in the same room.

Even if the hotel you are staying in is thoroughly cleaned, there is a chance of getting in touch with other people in the lobby or hallways. Housekeeping could also be an issue, with people outside your bubble entering your room and touching shared surfaces.

Experts also recommend carrying your own cleaning supplies and wiping down frequently used surfaces, including light switches, door handles, faucets and the TV remote control.

Alternatively, taking a road trip to a nearby destination like Yosemite or Lake Tahoe would be considered a low risk activity if you could camp and not have to stay in a hotel.

Ultimately, “the more people travel, the more they put themselves and others at risk,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley. “It’s this risk-benefit equation. When you travel from an area where there are a few other cases of SARS-CoV-2, you can potentially spread the infection to communities that are doing quite well. “

Hadar Aviran swam last year in the pool at Balboa Park. Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2019

Hadar Aviran swam last year in the pool at Balboa Park.

(Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2019 | San Francisco Chronicle)

Swimming in the neighborhood public pool

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Swim in swimming pools are generally considered safe, especially if they are outdoors. The risk comes once you’re out of the water.

“What is the density of the bridge and the changing rooms? How many people gather around the stairs? Said Rutherford. “If you’re standing in the water to your waist with a cocktail in hand around hundreds of other people, it’s a different problem. ”

Your best bet for swimming is in a private pool.

“The coronavirus does not survive in chlorinated water,” said Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Even better, find an uncrowded spot near a lake or ocean with lots of sun and wind, where you can easily maintain an appropriate physical distance.

SF Collective for Peace member J. Jiang (left) and collective founder Max Leung chat with Ying Huang, owner of Dim Sum's house, as they eat a bite to eat while patrolling the neighborhood Chinese in April. Photo: Lea Suzuki / La Chronique

SF Collective for Peace member J. Jiang (left) and collective founder Max Leung chat with Ying Huang, owner of Dim Sum’s house, as they eat a bite to eat while patrolling the neighborhood Chinese in April.

(Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)

Get dim sum in Chinatown

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Many restaurants, bars and wineries around the Bay Area are opening for outside and inside sitting meals.

Queuing in a popular dim sum house in Chinatown or a mission burrito with a group of other people for a few moments is considered a moderate risk. Sitting for a long meal or having a wine tasting with friends could be much more dangerous, depending on the layout of the place.

“If you want to go to a restaurant, I would go sooner or later and miss the crowd,” said Rutherford. “I would like to sit outside. I would like the waiter to wear a mask. ”

Experts also advise you to keep your mask on unless you are drinking.

According to the CDC, the coronavirus cannot be spread through food. But the virus can live on a surface – say, a bar top, an iPad, or a doorknob – and can be transmitted if someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes.

With Ari Kaufman, 8, in the lead, Ryan Loften takes students for a ride near Lake Phoenix in Ross in 2013. Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle 2013

With Ari Kaufman, 8, in the lead, Ryan Loften takes students for a ride near Phoenix Lake in Ross in 2013.

(Brant Ward / The Chronicle 2013 | San Francisco Chronicle)

Run, hike or bike on Mount Tam

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

Fresh air and physical activity are important. With more space between people, the risk decreases. But it’s important to make room for other people outside your home. Also wear a mask that you can put on as soon as you are within 30 feet of another person, especially if you hit a narrow part of the trail.

Spending someone for a few seconds is not cause for concern, assuming they are not sick, asymptomatic or presymptomatic.

“We will have to trust others to be responsible enough to reduce the risk of passing it on to others,” said Rutherford.

A free cardio zumba dance class offered by Fitness SF on the Salesforce Park roof in 2018. Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

A free cardio zumba dance class offered by Fitness SF on the Salesforce Park roof in 2018.

(Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)

Attend a group Zumba class at Golden Gate Park

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

We know that indoor group exercise in a confined space should be avoided. In March, 112 people in South Korea were infected with the virus after taking a Zumba class.

But what about outside?

Whether you’re dancing, roller skating, or weight training with others in Golden Gate Park – or even grooving with neighbors at a porch concert – exercise may induce difficult breathing, which may increase the release of respiratory droplets.

Since most people don’t wear a mask while doing cardio, physical distance is crucial to reducing the risk of transmission. Experts suggest doubling the recommended radius by 6 feet.

Last month, stylist Neck Gunes dries client Jennifer Nardelli's hair at St. Germain's hair salon in Washington, D.C. Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Last month, stylist Neck Gunes dries client Jennifer Nardelli’s hair at St. Germain’s hair salon in Washington, D.C.

(Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images | San Francisco Chronicle)

Getting a haircut at Walnut Creek

  Photo: Mollette-Parcs; Danielle

The risk of going to a hair salon or hair salon varies depending on the circumstances: how many people are in the room? How big is the space? How long will you be there?
Despite basic hygiene requirements, the risk comes mainly from prolonged face-to-face contact with a potentially asymptomatic hairdresser or stylist. There is no way to practice a safe physical distance while cutting your hair.

To help minimize the risk, experts suggest avoiding the conversation; disinfect hands before and after sitting; and wearing a properly covering face on your nose and mouth.

“Make sure you wear your mask and make sure the hairstylist wears his, too,” said Rutherford.

Aidin Vaziri is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]


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