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When the clock struck midnight ringing in 2020, no one had a pandemic on their mind. No one imagined putting on a mask and waiting in line to get into a grocery store. No one thought they would be separated from friends and family. No one predicted that millions of people would lose their jobs.

But it happened.

Dr. John Greene, Chair, Infectious Diseases Program

Dr. John Greene, Chair, Infectious Diseases Program

COVID-19 swept the nation, causing widespread fear, stay-at-home orders and shuttered restaurants. Today, as states begin lifting restrictions and businesses prepare to re-open, you may be wondering how to navigate safely in whatever the “new normal” looks like.  

We asked Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, to guide us through the current state of the pandemic, what precautions we should still be taking and what the future holds.

Is it safe to visit restaurants and shops?

For the most part, it’s safe, as long as you do it in a safe and logical way. 

Your risk of infection depends on how close you are to others, how long you are with them and how open the air system is (if you’re outdoors, indoors or in cramped spaces). Social distancing, or staying six feet apart, is critical and wearing a mask is helpful to reduce the number of droplets in the air that you produce and potentially inhale from others.

Most of the virus is airborne, so the big key is not to be around people who are sick and exhibiting symptoms.

Restaurants are going to be cautious during this time. They are spacing tables out and staff is wearing masks. Eating outside is your best option, but it should be safe for you to dine inside as long as you are being conscientious. The risk for exposure to the virus at a hair salon is also very low, as long as the person cutting your hair is wearing a mask, not symptomatic and the only one around you.

When it comes to going to the grocery store, post office or somewhere indoors where people are coming and going, wearing a mask is a good idea. Walking by people who may or may not be wearing masks, like a grocery store aisle, has a low level of exposure. You have to be talking face-to-face with someone less than six feet away for more than five to 10 minutes nonstop to have significant exposure.

It is still a good idea to avoid any places where there are large crowds. Outdoor activities such as walking, biking and hiking are the safest things you can do.

The same advice goes for cancer patients. They should also talk to their doctors to get a better understanding of how any recent treatment affects their immune system and determine a shared comfort level for when it is okay to start venturing out more.

Can I start seeing my elderly and/or at-risk family members?

If you don’t have any symptoms—cough, congestion, fever, loss of smell—and feel normal, it is safe to visit your family members. You can personally decide if you should wear a mask based on your risk level. Complete isolation and avoidance need to end and now is as good of a time as any.

When can we stop wearing masks?

The whole idea of the mask changed over the last few months. Before this, we would only wear a mask when we evaluated a symptomatic patient in the hospital to prevent inhaling what they have.

Then the question arose, what if you wear a mask to protect other people? Masks are now recommended because they reduce the amount of air being exhaled into other people’s air space and that could potentially reduce transmission. Mask wearing could last another several months or even a year. Once we feel the virus is under control—there is a treatment, a vaccination, community immunity—people may stop. But right now, it’s the only extra thing people can do to prevent infection in addition to hand washing and avoiding touching your face.

Does heat kill COVID-19?

This is a debatable issue. A Moffitt research team is working on an article that says weather is critical in reducing COVID-19 infections because UV light and humidity makes transmission less likely. We personally believe that weather does affect virus transmission and we will see less COVID-19 cases in the summer.

We see this with other viruses, like the flu, which are more common in the winter. We think COVID-19 will likely circulate again along with other winter viruses as opposed to continually circulating throughout the summer. This, however, is only speculation and only time will tell.

How will hurricane season affect COVID-19?

While hurricanes do clean  the air of pollution, dust and microbes, there is not likely a significant amount of suspended viruses in the air that cause infection. The problem would be if you lose power and you have to go to a shelter; now you have a lot of people packed together indoors and that could potentially mean an increase in virus transmission.

Will there be another wave of the virus this fall/winter?

It is highly likely we will see the coronavirus in the future and it will most likely occur in the wintertime. It will likely be must less severe than we have already experienced, and we are more prepared now and can quickly take measures if necessary. If it does come back, it will do so first in the northern climates where the weather is colder. Southern states like Florida will have more advanced warning after seeing what happens in the northern regions first.