But getting on with life doesn’t have to mean throwing caution to the wind. Covid is still here and the number of cases is increasing 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, compared this new normal to the adjustments we all had to make in terms of security after 9/11. September We’ve become accustomed to additional restrictions around travel, such as removing our shoes at airline check-in lines, as an inconvenience to keep us safer.
I’ve spent almost three years reporting on covid and pandemic life, talking to many of the world’s leading experts on public health and virus transmission. We don’t have to choose between staying safer and leading a normal life. We can do both. Here are 10 tips to help, including some of the steps I’m taking to protect myself.
- Take a booster shot. Start by getting vaccinated or getting a booster shot. Read this Q&A to get answers to common questions about the new boosters.
- Mask when it’s easy. No one wants to wear a mask all day, so be strategic. I don’t usually wear a mask to work, but I do wear one in a crowded meeting. You might want to mask up 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 use public transportation. The risk is cumulative, so every time you wear a mask in a high-risk situation, you’re reducing your odds of catching the virus.
- Mask when you travel. The risk of coming into contact with covid increases when you travel. Download it with a mask in the security line and in crowded terminals. Airplanes have effective ventilation systems, filtering air as often as every five minutes, but I still wear a mask. If it’s a long trip and you just don’t want to wear a mask, consider bringing one during the boarding and disembarking process, when the ventilation system may be off. And here’s a travel tip from virus experts: During the flight, turn on the fan nozzle and place it to blow on your face to help keep any stray viral particles at bay.
- Avoid 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 elderly or have an underlying medical condition may opt for outdoor spaces when it comes to dining, sporting events and concerts. And for indoor events, such as going to the movies or theater, the more cautious may want to wear a high-quality mask.
- Check community streaming levels. Tracking the number of cases in your community can help guide your choices. In the United States, if you’re looking at a map of transmission levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, be sure to use the drop-down menu to see “community transmission,” not “community levels of covid-19,” which they are an indicator of how hospitals are being managed and not so relevant to personal decision-making.
- You have a Paxlovid plan. People over 50 and people at high risk are eligible to take Paxlovid, a highly effective antiviral drug. You will have to start in five days of diagnosis or the onset of symptoms, so it’s important to talk to your doctor and have a plan to get a prescription quickly if you need it.
- Think about your indoor air. Adding a portable air purifier to a space can effectively double the room’s ventilation. Ask your employer to provide portable air purifiers in offices 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. Although a negative home test means you are probably not contagious, it is not a guarantee that you do not have covid. If you have cold symptoms or are unwell, especially if you have had a known exposure to the virus or have been in a high-risk situation, such as traveling or attending an indoor concert, you should stay away from others or wear a mask until symptoms disappear, even if the test is negative.
- Stay home from work when you’re sick. One of the great lessons of the pandemic is that we don’t have to go to the office with sore kidneys or a sore throat. Stay home and come over if you feel well enough to work.
- Plan your life around the most vulnerable person in your orbit. If you have regular close contact with someone who is elderly, chronically ill, or immunocompromised, you should 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 many reasons why we shouldn’t just be vaxx and done with. An infection with the virus can sideline you or disrupt your life or the lives of those around you very easily.”
Three questions. . . about smarter exercise
This week I spoke with Your Move columnist Gretchen Reynolds, who has written about the dangers of being a 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 regular exercise habit?
To: Most people, including me, say it’s because we don’t have time. But most behavioral science says it’s because we’re not having fun. If people don’t like exercise, they won’t do it. The good news is that there are so many ways to be active. Don’t you like running? There’s swimming, hiking, mountain biking, weight training, pickleball, online yoga, walks with friends, or whatever movement takes your fancy. It might also help to reframe workouts as “me time” or healthy procrastination. In this case, you don’t just go for a walk or swim. You’re taking a mental health break and you’ll return to work refreshed, alert, and eager to procrastinate a little more tomorrow.
Q: Which is more important for health: more exercise or less sitting?
To: 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 don’t undo these effects. We probably need at least an hour of exercise a day to combat long hours of sitting. Or we can sit less and move more, breaking up our sitting with gentle activity but not formal exercise. Both approaches are healthy, and combining them – exercising more and sitting less – is the healthiest of all, if you can manage it.
Q: What is your favorite short workout?
To: I love fartlek, which just means I pick a tree or other landmark when I’m out walking or running and pace myself until I get there. 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 I fart.
This week’s daily life coach is Shunmyo Masuno, a monk and author of a new book I’m reading, Don’t Worry: 48 Anxiety Relief Lessons from a Zen Buddhist Monk.
The tip: Make your afternoons easy. “One of the tricks to a quiet night is to avoid, as much as possible, having to make decisions in the moment,” Masuno writes.
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 night will vary from person to person. Nights can be hectic for parents and sometimes we have to take work home with us. Whatever your situation, try to take some quiet time before bed. Some people may want to read a book or listen to music. Make the night the time you work on a craft or hobby. Light a candle. take a bath “When you make time for pleasure, you’ll naturally feel calmer and more at ease,” writes Masuno. “You end up improving the quality of your sleep and waking up refreshed and ready for your day.”
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