When Can We Socialize?

Long Island is now officially in Phase 1 of the New York Forward Plan for reopening society.  There are a few industries that are able to resume business during this phase, but you have to start somewhere.  With a little luck we will progress to Phase 2 in a couple of weeks and with that the start of a new normal for many in the workplace with respect to workflows in an attempt to minimize spread of infectious diseases.

At this point, folks have been primarily homebound for approaching three months.  Stir crazy is an understatement for most.  Netflix binging apparently has limitations.  On a daily basis we receive calls to ask what one should or should not do with their families with respect to social interactions with friends and family.  Can you hang?  Do you need to wear masks?  There are many opinions on this matter, and unfortunately not a lot of hard evidence to support them.

Let’s start with the simple premise that with any action one takes in life there is associated risk.  This applies to eating (choking/allergic reactions), using automobile transportation, owning tigers for pets…..it comes down to degree of risk and the tolerance of an individual for taking on risk.  Next, let’s compound that premise with the concept that some decisions regarding taking on risk affect others.  It is this concept that is really the crux of the issue.

As it pertains to children, the risks of COVID are minimal. To date, in the US there have been approximately 200 deaths among individuals under 25 years of age.  The majority (80%) of these have involved children with significant existing underlying conditions.  As always, we are not belittling 200 fatalities in any age group, but simply trying to keep this issue in perspective.    We don’t hesitate to drive our children in cars despite the fact that roughly 700 children under 12 years of age die as occupants of motor vehicles.  We not only permit, but encourage, our children to play sports and various activities.  Over 12,000 children die annually from doing so, and 9.2 million visit the emergency room for injuries in addition.  The data for most parents of school age children are not that different.  For parents 25-35 years of age, the risk of death from COVID is about 5-fold higher relative to their children.  For those parents who started family planning a bit later, the risk is about 10-fold higher.  Between school age children and their parents, they represent less than 3% of all fatalities from COVID.

With those numbers in mind, most young people if given a sheet of activities and risks (with the activity choices given fake names) would choose to engage in activities with COVID like risks.  Older folks have different concerns based on their relative risk.  COVID affects those older than 50 quite differently and they are at much higher risk of fatal outcome.  This risk increases markedly with age and represents a very serious disease for our elderly population.

So now we can circle back to the initial questions and try to make sense of what to do.   If the question is whether you can be around extended family and friends, the answer is yes.  What precautions you need to take though is still somewhat an issue of your risk tolerance.  If you are hanging with grandparents, masks are probably a wise decision.  Hand washing a given.  Don’t have your four-year old germ wick finger-feeding grandpa watermelon in the backyard.   Can your kids have a playdate?  Depends….does either child have grandparents living with them?  A parent with high risk conditions?  Do they need to wear a mask?  Can’t hurt at this point, though the evidence for needing such is not clear if they have no symptoms.  The WHO at this time does not have such recommendation based on data.

Lastly, there are some things that really should not be questioned or debated at this time.  If you are out in public, you MUST assume that everyone around you could have COVID.  You also MUST assume that anyone you come in contact with may be at high risk for poor outcome based on an underlying condition they have.  You finally MUST assume that YOU yourself have COVID and have no symptoms.  While you may choose to take on risk yourself, it is not acceptable to place others at such due to your risk tolerance.  So, while a mask may or may not help, it absolutely cannot hurt.  This is not a political issue as is being painted on TV.  It is in the category of common sense.  And no, you won’t die breathing in your own carbon dioxide. As time passes, there will be hard core data on these types of issues.  Hopefully, for all our sakes, masks won’t be a continued necessity.