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COVID and Cancer: Is It Safe To Go Out?

As states begin opening up and people start to emerge from weeks and months of sheltering in place, one must ask “is it safe to go back out”?

In Boston, it was surreal to walk the desolate streets, sans cars, signs taped to storefront windows with bold black letters that held the same message "closed until further notice", and parking was available everywhere.

Walking During Cancer Looking back at the time of my Dx I would get out and attempt to take walks. For walking seemed to have been the level of exercise I was able to engage in. I did so through chemo, post surgery, and, despite the fatigue from, radiation. Some days it would be less than 1000 steps. Other times I hit my 10K goal. Walking was meditative. It gave me structure during a time when there were many unknowns. Strutting down the uneven sidewalks of Boston somehow grounded me, allowing my mind to quiet down and take in the sites and sounds and beauty. Walking During COVID-19 Nowadays the lines of working from home and home-life have gotten blurry. Before COVID-19, I would wake up on Monday mornings, fight with my wardrobe before settling on something to wear, lather on concealer and then run out the door - only to sit in traffic for 45 minutes. Initially, working from home was exciting. I would wake up Monday, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and mosey on to the kitchen table. There I would open my laptop and start my day, all the while being comfortable and cozy, in my yoga pants and possibly a nice top if I had meetings on Zoom. I knew I had to figure out a way to create structure so I turned to what I did during times of concern, of unknown, and anxiety. Walking. Just like then, on some days I had the energy and time to walk 5 miles while other times I was lucky enough to escape during a lunch break to do a lap around the block. During my recent daily walking routine, I have started to notice that more and more people were stepping out. We are on the brink of summer and everyone is longing for the warmth and just to be outdoors. More and more cars are on the road as families head to the Cape for a long weekend, or an escape up north to their lake house or mountain retreat. Slowly people are losing their concerns over COVID-19 as the news reports encouraging declines in new cases and deaths.

Life After COVID-19 Most states have now begun to open up. Restaurants are starting to prepare for outdoor seating and companies are diligently working on their reopening operations/strategies. But by no means is COVID-19 gone. I wonder what life will be like after a global health pandemic:

  • Will we continue to stand in lines before entering a grocery store?

  • Will wearing face coverings become the norm?

  • Will we ever shake hands or hug and kiss again? 

What Is Your Comfort Level as States Reopen?

People will certainly have different levels of comfort as we emerge from sheltering in place. Imagine the scenario: A friend invites you over to her home for an outdoor BBQ. Before COVID, it would have been an automatic "yes" and you would offer "what you can I bring". This still may be the natural response from most people. However, after months of practicing social distancing, I have to ask myself, am I ready to be social again?

We will all have different levels of tolerance as we navigate this new path: Life post COVID. It's critical that as we begin to return to social gatherings and the luxuries of dining out, getting your hair blown out, or visiting with grandparents, there are still healthy and safety practices that are strongly recommended, like wearing a face covering, continuing to wash your hands frequently, and remaining a respectable 6ft distance from others.

When I asked a colleague how she felt about going back out and seeing friends and family, she expressed similar concerns but suggested the tactic of utilizing a color scale to talk about comfort levels. This is a way for friends and family members to discuss the delicate topic that has the possibility of making someone feel uncomfortable if they decline to grab a dinner out or return to the shopping malls.

If you are open and don't mind jumping on a plane or hugging your friends as a gesture of hello, you could say you are "Green" and ready to, though some experts would not advise this unless it is necessary to travel and you should still wear a face covering!

On the other hand, you may be comfortable meeting up with 2 or 3 friends while all wearing a mask, exercising social distancing, and gathering in an outside space. We'll call this "Orange" or "Yellow". Using the sliding color scale lets you and your friends know where you are emotionally and mentally as we begin to open up and resume some sense of normalcy.

Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine states that “going for a walk with a friend in a park is probably better than hanging out in your friend’s living room,” and the same health and safety measures apply.

Below is a roundup of tips and recommendations from the Atlantic, Today, Southshore Health, and the Boston Globe :

  • If you are returning to a physical office take the stairs instead of a small and crowded elevator. If you are on the 17th floor, wait for the next elevator to arrive so it's less crowded.

  • If you normally take public transportation, speak with your manager to see if you can adjust your hours and commute during non-peak hours.

  • When dinning out, bring your own disinfectant wipes to clean the tables, chairs and menus. Refrain from eating with your hands and try to dine in outside areas when possible.

  • Stay updated on your state's reopening strategy. Remain flexible to the phased approach knowing that things are still subject to change.

  • Communication is key. if you are a business that is reopening, share your plans with your staff and clients. If you find yourself feeling ill, don't try and be the hero, take a sick day or see if you can work from home.

There isn't a switch we can flip to return back to the way things were in 2019. We have a new line in the sand that has been drawn which we have crossed. There's no turning back. As we know all too well with our own cancer diagnoses, we have an ingrained moment in time when we recall life Before Cancer. Similarly, the world is striving to fight off disease, develop a vaccine, and return to life Before COVID-19.

To all of my friends who recall the 90's feminist, expressive, and relatable indie rocker

Alanis Morissette, we now have two defining moments of life B.C. isn't it "Ironic"


P.S. A recently published peer viewed article in the journal of Nature states that the shutdowns prevented 60 million coronavirus infections in the U.S., and

estimated that the it saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries and dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent.

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