Still Out and About?

Questions about the coronavirus if you’re out and about

In general, is it risky to go out?

Your risk depends on factors such as whether:

  • You are vaccinated
  • COVID-19 is spreading in your community
  • You are likely to be in close contact with others who might be sick or who aren’t wearing masks
  • You need to take public transportation
  • A lot of people will be present
  • You take everyday precautions to protect yourself against the virus
  • The event will be indoors
  • You are older and whether you have any medical conditions that put you at greater risk of severe illness

You can learn more about COVID-19’s spread and severity in your community from local and state health department websites. For a deeper dive into the coronavirus’s impact in various communities, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker or the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

I’m vaccinated. Does that mean I can go anywhere without precautions?

Not yet. Experts don’t know enough about the virus or the vaccine to say you and those around you would definitely stay safe. The CDC has updated guidelines suggesting what’s safe after you’re fully vaccinated (which means two weeks after your final shot — a period that lets your body build immunity).

Am I safe outdoors?

You are probably safer, experts believe — but you still should practice social distancing and other precautions. If you’re visiting parks or recreational facilities, or beaches or pools, advice from the CDC includes maintaining physical distancing, wearing a mask when possible, washing your hands often and avoiding crowds.

Indoor spaces are riskier because it can be harder to keep distance between people and there is less ventilation, the CDC says. One very preliminary study from Japan found the odds of getting sick were almost 19 times higher in closed than in open-air environments — but more research is needed to support this finding.

Do I really need to wear a mask?

Yes. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public places such as stores and when traveling, and many businesses are requiring their customers to do so. Also, a number of cities and states require masks to be worn in public settings (AARP is tracking mask mandates by state.)

Here’s how to wear a mask, and how to safely take it off. But don’t wear a mask with a valve or vent, the CDC says, because it won’t prevent you from spreading the virus to others.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t wear a mask?

Masks should not be worn by:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance

Can I launder my cloth mask in the washing machine?

You can wash it by machine or by hand. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands any time you remove your mask. If the mask is wet or dirty, store it in a plastic bag and wash it as soon as you can.

Is it safe for my child to go back to school?

That’s complicated — it’s a different calculation for each school and each student. On top of that, some schools that have taken careful measures to prevent the spread of COVID-9 have opened and then quickly closed after disease outbreaks. At the same time, students are suffering harm from not attending in-person school. The CDC has issued highly detailed, updated guidelines on factors schools should weigh when planning their reopening.

There are numerous things for you to consider, including how widespread coronavirus infection is in your community (check your local health department website and the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker), your child’s medical risk and education and transportation needs, preventive measures taken by the school, and your child-care and family circumstances (for instance, if you live with someone at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness).

The CDC offers a comprehensive decision-making tool to help you sort through such concerns. The agency also has checklists to help you plan for your in-person classes and virtual or at-home learning.

Can my kids participate safely in organized sports?

There’s no easy answer — instead, there’s a lot to think about. The CDC outlines various considerations for youth sports — for instance, defining a range of activities from lowest risk (doing drills at home) to greater risk (competition within a single team) to highest risk (full competition between teams from different areas). Parents should also consider how close players are to each other and for how long, how much equipment is shared and the age of the players, among many other factors. Disinfecting equipment, keeping sick players at home, promoting proper hygiene in the era of the coronavirus and much more are covered here.

As an essential worker, how can I make sure I’m following the latest safety advice?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC provide extensive, occupation-specific guidance to help protect workers against COVID-19. Of course, follow standard safety advice about wearing a mask or cloth face covering, physical distancing, regular handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting workspaces.

How can I visit family and friends?

Contact with people outside your household can raise your risk for getting COVID-19.

The CDC provides guidance for limited gatherings with others if you are fully vaccinated. Otherwise, to help protect your family and friends, don’t go if you feel sick or might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. To make gatherings safer, the CDC says you should meet outside, wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet apart, wash your hands frequently and disinfect surfaces that anyone touches.

Is it safe to go to the grocery store?

Experts recommend minimizing in-person visits to grocery stores or other stores selling essential goods. If possible, place an order for delivery or for pickup outside.
If you need to go into the store, take all the usual precautions, including wearing a mask as recommended and staying at least 6 feet away from others. Go during off-hours, when the store is less likely to be crowded. (Some stores have set special hours for people at risk).

The CDC also advises that you disinfect your cart, follow directional signs or floor markings, sanitize your hands when you leave the store, and wash them thoroughly when you get home.

How about going to restaurants?

Some cities and states have limited dine-in options, so you may not have a choice. The safest advice is to get carryout or contactless delivery if you want restaurant food, and try to pay by phone or online. Be sure to wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds before and after eating (and any other time you realize you just haven’t washed your hands in a while). You might consider washing the food containers before handling them.

If you plan to dine in, experts recommend calling ahead to find out if all the restaurant’s workers and patrons are required to wear masks and whether you can park your own car and avoid valet. If possible dine outside. Wear your mask as much as possible when not eating, keep your distance from anyone who doesn’t live with you including in entryways and waiting areas, avoid self-serve food where utensils are shared, and request individual condiment packets to avoid commonly handled items such as salt shakers. Of course, if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home.

I have all kinds of questions about whether it’s safe to travel. Where do I start?

You’re not alone. From cruise safety to airport worries, the CDC breaks down the guidance. To start, get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can. In general, avoid discretionary or non-urgent travel and ocean and river cruises. If you do opt for a cruise, stay at home for 14 days afterward.

If you’d like to travel in the U.S., the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker can show you which states have high rates of coronavirus cases and deaths (click on the “per 100,000” tabs). Also, check local and state health department websites. Many countries have restrictions or even an outright ban on visitors from the U.S. The State Department provides country-by-country information, as well as assessments of COVID-19 risk for different countries.

What about routine medical, dental or vision appointments if I’m not sick?

The health care landscape has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic. Some clinics and offices might have closed. Most others have developed careful protocols — often posted on their websites — to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These can include closing or changing the setup of the waiting room, requiring use of hand sanitizers and face masks, and asking about symptoms beforehand or checking your temperature on arrival.  

Contact the health care professional you’d like to visit about your health care needs and whether a telemedicine or in-person appointment is needed. (The American Heart Association offers tips on reconnecting with your health care team.) If the office is in a major medical facility, remember that some facilities might be overwhelmed with patients and that crowds are discouraged.

Should I let my child go on a play date or have a sleepover?

No. We know it’s tough to make kids understand why they can’t see their friends, but social visits are generally discouraged. Encourage other ways of connecting, like virtual play dates.

The gym is closed. Help! What are some other ways to fit in fitness?

Start by setting your fitness goals. Work out in your home office (check out recorded workouts and other resources on our Move More Together page, or create your own circuit workout at home). Practice balance exercises in your living room and get out for a walk (just be sure to practice social distancing).

How do I stay safe when my gym opens?

If your gym has reopened, find out if it’s implemented prevention measures such as plexiglass barriers, mask requirements and closing of shared locker space. Look for outside exercise options or virtual classes, and limit attendance at indoor group classes, while maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask whenever possible. (The CDC provides details.)

Also, open windows where available to increase air flow. Wipe down shared equipment and avoid using items that can’t be adequately sanitized, such as resistance bands. And of course, stay home if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

I feel fine. What can I do to help others?

First, you can accept the AHA’s thanks. We're all in this together and we should help others when we can. Remember, though, that you can feel fine and still carry the virus. So staying away from others may be the best help you can offer. But there are many virtual opportunities to help and other ways to stay connected. Here are some ideas. You can also check with your local charities, governments and other groups. And if you know a neighbor is homebound or older or doesn’t have family in the area, reach out and see what you can do.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.