But getting on with life doesn’t have to mean letting go of caution. Covid is still here, and the number of cases is rising in some communities. We all have to learn to live with covid.
Living with covid can be easy if you take simple and regular precautions. Jay Varma, a physician, infectious disease expert, and professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, likened this new normal to the adjustments we all had to make to security after 9/11. We have become accustomed to additional travel restrictions, such as removing shoes at airline checkpoints, as an inconvenience to keep us safer.
I spent nearly three years reporting on covid and the pandemic, speaking with many of the world’s leading experts on public health and virus transmission. We don’t have to choose between staying safer and living a normal life. We can do both. Here are 10 tips to help, including some of the steps I’m taking to protect myself.
- Get a booster shot. Start by getting vaccinated or getting a booster shot. Read these questions and answers for answers to common questions about the new boosters.
- Mask when it’s easy. Nobody wants to wear a mask all day, so be strategic. I don’t normally wear a mask at work, but I do wear one in a crowded meeting. You may want to masquerade at the grocery store; it’s a building full of strangers and covid is probably there too. Mask at the doctor’s office or on your commute if you take public transportation. The risk is cumulative, so every time you put on a mask in a high-risk situation, you are reducing your chances of getting the virus.
- Mask when you travel. Your risk of coming into contact with covid increases when you travel. Get it off wearing a mask in the security line and in crowded terminals. Planes have effective ventilation systems, which filter the air every five minutes, but I still wear a mask. If it’s a long drive and you just don’t want to wear a mask, consider wearing one. during the embarkation and disembarkation process, when the ventilation system may be turned off. And here’s a travel tip from virus experts: During the flight, turn on the fan nozzle and position it to blow into your face to help keep errant viral particles at bay.
- Avoid the crowds. Whether you heed this advice will likely depend on your overall risk. Young, healthy people who are vaccinated may choose to spend time in crowded indoor areas. People who are older or have an underlying health condition may opt for outdoor areas when it comes to dinners, sporting events, and concerts. And for indoor events, like going to the movies or theater, the wary may still want to wear a high-quality mask.
- Check community transmission levels. Keeping track of case counts in your community can help guide your choices. In the United States, if you look at a map of transmission levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, be sure to use the dropdown menu to see “community transmission,” not “community levels of covid-19,” which are an indicator of how hospitals are being managed and not so relevant for personal decision-making.
- Have a Paxlovid plan. People over the age of 50 and those at high risk are eligible to take Paxlovid, a highly effective antiviral drug. You’ll have to start in five days of diagnosis or symptom onset, so it’s important to talk with your doctor and have a plan to get a prescription quickly if you need one.
- Think about your indoor air. Adding a portable air cleaner to a space can effectively double the ventilation in the room. Ask your employer to provide portable air purifiers in office spaces and meeting rooms. Ask how often the filters are changed. You can also ask your employer what steps have been taken to improve indoor air quality in the office. Many workplaces have upgraded air filters to hospital grade filters. (Ideally, your workplace uses something called MERV-13 filters, but some systems can only handle MERV-11 filters.)
- Use home tests wisely. While a negative home test means you’re probably not contagious, it’s not a guarantee you don’t have covid. If you have cold symptoms or are not feeling well, especially if you have been exposed to the virus or have been in a higher risk situation such as a trip or an indoor concert, you should stay away from others or wear a mask until your symptoms go away, even if your test is negative.
- Stay home from work when you are sick. One of the great lessons of the pandemic is that we should not go to the office with colds or sore throats. Just stay home and zoom in if you feel well enough to work.
- Plan your life around the most vulnerable person in your orbit. If you are in regular close contact with someone who is older, has a chronic illness, or is immunocompromised, you will need to take extra precautions and be more vigilant about masking, testing, and avoiding high-risk situations.
The bottom line is that it’s not all or nothing, said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “There are a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t just be vaccinated and be done with it. An infection with the virus can sideline you or disrupt your life or the lives of those around you very easily.”
Three questions. . . about exercising smarter
This week I spoke with Your Move columnist Gretchen Reynolds, who has written about the dangers of being an active couch potato and whether morning or night is the best time of day to exercise.
Q: Why is it so difficult for people to establish a habit of regular exercise?
A: Most people, including me, say it’s because we don’t have time. But most of the behavioral sciences say it’s because we’re not having fun. If people don’t like exercise, they won’t. The good news is that there are many ways to stay active. Don’t you like jogging? There’s swimming, hiking, mountain biking, weight training, pickleball, online yoga, walking with friends, or whatever movement you enjoy. It might also help to reframe workouts as “me time” or healthy procrastination. In that case, you are not just going to walk or swim. You’re taking a mental health break and will return to work refreshed, alert, and eager to procrastinate a bit more tomorrow.
Q: What is more important for health: exercise more or sit less?
A: Can I answer “both”? There is no doubt that sitting is bad for us. It affects our bodies in ways that increase our risks for everything from weight gain to heart disease. And new studies suggest that short workouts won’t negate those effects. We probably need to exercise for at least an hour a day to combat long hours of sitting. Or we can sit less and move more, breaking up our session with light activity but no formal exercise. Either approach is healthy, and combining them (exercising more and sitting less) is the healthiest of all, if you can handle it.
Q: What is your favorite short workout?
A: I love to fartlek, which means I pick a tree or other landmark when I’m out for a walk or run and pick up the pace until I reach it. My fartlek sessions are usually short, maybe 15 minutes. But it’s such a fun and easy way to add intensity to a workout and make the time go by faster. I never get bored when fartlek.
This week’s Life Coach is Shunmyo Masuno, a monk and author of a new book I’m reading, “Don’t Worry: 48 Lessons on Relieving Anxiety from a Zen Buddhist Monk.”
The advice: Make your evenings calm. “One of the tricks to make your evening calm is to avoid, as much as possible, having to make decisions at this moment,” writes Masuno.
Why you should try it: In one study, researchers tracked the decisions of 184 chess players. The study, published in the journal Cognition, found that the most accurate decision-making occurred between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
How to do it: Adding calm to your evening will vary from person to person. Evenings can be busy for parents and sometimes we have to take work home with us. Whatever your situation, try to carve out some quiet time before bed. Some people may want to read a book or listen to music. Make the afternoon the time you work on a craft or hobby. Light a candle. Take a bath. “When you make time for pleasure, you will naturally feel calmer and more at ease,” writes Masuno. “You end up improving the quality of your sleep, and you’ll wake up refreshed and ready for your day.”
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