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Health Safety Tips For When It's Time To Emerge From Lockdowns

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What are the safest ways to move around as we start to do it more? An end to lockdowns is coming. We know of Southern states that have ended shelter-in-place rules and even Michigan, which is locked down tight, is letting auto plants start up again with the governor's approval. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to talk through the options for going outdoors or to church or returning to work. Hi there, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Aren't people already moving around more?

AUBREY: Yes, definitely, people are moving around more. Using cellphone location data, researchers have seen about a 20% decline in the percentage of people staying home compared to two weeks ago. And it's also worth noting who seems to be going out most. Some new survey data out of the U.K. shows during lockdown about 50% of adolescent boys and young men - so college-aged males - acknowledge meeting up with a group of friends. And many parents in the U.S. have seen this growing restlessness. So it's tough, but there are safer ways to meet up.

INSKEEP: I have seen those groups of young people around my neighborhood. So if you are going out, if you have to go out, if you determine that you're going to go out, what are the safer ways to do it?

AUBREY: The data suggests that prolonged indoor contact is the riskiest. Being outside is lower risk. So over the last week or so, we've seen several states giving the green light to outdoor activities - exercising on the beach or in parks, tennis, golf, boating. We're also hearing more about small gatherings in people's yards. So a neighbor sets up chairs 6 feet apart, invites a few friends, fewer than 10 hopefully. And Aaron Carroll, he's a physician and a health policy expert at Indiana University, he says this makes some sense.

AARON CARROLL: We're never going to get to risk zero. The goal is to minimize it as much as possible. And I think that, yes, if you're sitting in your backyard and you're wearing a mask and you're socially distanced from other people, then truly the likelihood of passing the infection from one person to another is incredibly, incredibly small.

AUBREY: There's better air circulation outside, more sunlight. It's often easier to stay 6 feet away when you're in someone's backyard than their living room. But Carroll says it can be a slippery slope. You know, once people gather, you have to be careful about maintaining social distancing.

INSKEEP: Absolutely. So reassuring that if you're outside and you stay away from people, that can be a way that you can get face to face. But what are the risky areas, risky practices to avoid?

AUBREY: You know, many cases are transmitted at home. So one way is a family member who's an essential worker brings it home to everyone else, so really important for that essential worker, you know, to wash hands, take precautions. And the more people who gather in a home, the more risk. I spoke to Jennifer Layden. She's the chief medical officer at the Chicago Department of Public Health. She points to one cluster of cases a few months back just before social distancing began. It was linked to a family gathering for a funeral.

JENNIFER LAYDEN: It illustrated how when you have these large gatherings and there's close, prolonged contact sitting right next to each other, sitting at a table, sharing food, sharing utensils, hugging, transmission can happen.

AUBREY: You know, it's a reminder of why we all still need to be careful.

INSKEEP: Can people be careful and try to return to church?

AUBREY: Well, you know, there are some churches open. I spoke to William Foy. He's the pastor at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Valparaiso, Ind. He's now using SignUpGenius. So the first 10 people who sign up can come to this service. And he's holding many more services on Sundays to try to accommodate everybody.

WILLIAM FOY: I greet everybody, but where it used to always be with handshakes or hugs, we don't do that. And every other pew, I put a rope across on both ends so nobody can sit in it. So if you sit in a pew, there is 6 feet between you and the people in front of you and 6 feet between you and the people behind you.

AUBREY: Now, some other pastors I spoke to say when they reopen, they'll have recorded music rather than a live choir. Some told me they may wrap communion wafers individually and ask everyone to wear a mask.

INSKEEP: Oh, I'm glad you brought up masks because they've been so divisive. Some people insist on them; some people insist on not wearing them. There have been protests.

AUBREY: Sure. That's right.

INSKEEP: And there was even this episode in Michigan last week where authorities think a security guard was shot after telling a woman to wear a mask.

AUBREY: Yes. But, you know, there's very good reason we're being asked to wear masks. I spoke to Robert Winn. He's a physician at Virginia Commonwealth University. Now, he says it's impossible to say just how many infections that masks may prevent. Mostly the masks do help prevent the person wearing it from spreading the virus. But as you say, some folks may seem - they see this as a symbol of, you know, the loss of personal liberty. For others, this sends a very different signal.

ROBERT WINN: When I see someone wearing a mask, it says two things to me. They care about the people around them, and they care and respect themselves. That's what the mask says to me. And so this concept of wearing the mask when you really cannot be 6 feet away from other people, it only makes common sense.

AUBREY: I know it's worth pointing out the CDC is recommending that we wear them, and we'll continue to see this as more people go back to work and perhaps on public transport.

INSKEEP: And, of course, when people are on public transport or back at work, they're quite likely indoors, which makes that kind of thing vital. What else can employers do as businesses reopen?

AUBREY: Yeah. Well, you know, employers are thinking about things like screening, antibody testing. A lot of employers are scrambling, trying to come up safety measures for reopening. One idea being floated in some countries is the idea of an immunity passport or a health passport so people who have had the virus and presumably have some immunity would be identified and perhaps cleared to go to work. But physician Aaron Carroll says this is really not as simple as it sounds.

CARROLL: First of all, we should acknowledge that we don't even understand yet how good immunity is, how long it lasts, how much it's protective. So to start labeling people immune is really jumping the gun. We just don't know yet.

AUBREY: So, you know, still a lot to learn here, a lot to work out as states continue to relax restrictions and people think about returning to work.

INSKEEP: Allison, I always learn something from you. Thanks so much.

AUBREY: (Laughter) Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "DIFFERENTIAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.