BIRMINGHAM, Ala — A lot about this fall semester looks different from years past and may be not what students expected college to be like. Studying, socializing — even going to the store and the gym — look different.
Some schools are reporting high numbers of COVID-19 cases, others, hardly any.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to everyday life, University of Alabama at Birmingham experts from the Division of Infectious Diseases share scenarios and ideas for students to enjoy activities with friends while minimizing spread of the virus.
Masks and distancing are not either/or; the two go hand in hand. It is safer to socialize outside where there is ample fresh air circulation. Indoors or out, it is essential to wear masks and keep a 6-foot distance from others to minimize risk for you and others. Recent data show COVID has spread largely from indoor venues like bars and restaurants.
In addition to masks and social distancing, minimize the risk of socializing by creating a “pod” or “quaranteam,” a small group friends (no more than 10; the fewer the better) who have a consistent set of risk exposures and social tolerances. Members should only socialize with members of your pod and avoid high-risk situations. It is important to know how many face-to-face exposures your pod members have with others — and what kinds — to ensure that you all are safe and COVID-negative when you are gathering. Know how pod members are feeling week to week. If you think a pod member may be exposed or is steering away from the set agreements you all have put in place, it may be time to reevaluate whom you are socializing with and in what contexts.
It is safer to ride in vehicles alone; but if you must ride with others, wear a mask the whole time. And when you reach your destination, roll down the windows; this will help allow fresh air to circulate through the vehicle. If you are riding on public transportation in the city or on campus, it is essential that you wear a mask and distance from others to keep yourself and other passengers safe. For tips on how to safely shop for groceries, read more here.
To-go orders are best. Getting takeout is a safe way to keep your favoriterestaurant in business and follow public health guidelines. You can safely enjoy a night with a small group of friends by picnicking outside; remember to stay 6 feet apart when your masks are off, even outside.
Those hands of yours are virus delivery vehicles to your body. They take the virus right from its previous host to your body through your mouth, nose and eyes, so be sure to wash or sanitize your hands often, especially before you eat.
Right now it’s best not to share lip balm, mascara, waterbottles or anything else that may have come in contact with another person’s body fluids.
Being social is a function of being human, but temporary sacrifices are necessary. Data show it is high-risk to be in a confined space such as a bar or club at this time. Consider gathering with a small group of friends outside where there is plenty of circulation and space to spread out 6 feet from others. Alternatively, inviting a friend or two over to watch a movie or hang out can be a safe option; if indoors, masks should still be worn to minimize any potential spread of COVID.
Pandemic or not, figuring out the best way for you to excel in your studies is key. If studying with peers is effective for you, there are safe ways to navigate in-person study sessions. If at a friend’s house or at the library, minimize the number of people gathered to maintain proper distance. Wearing your mask at all times is key while keeping a 6-foot distance from others. The safest way to study in a group this year is to optimize Zoom and other video conference platforms, which is an easy way to add multiple people and share documents back and forth quickly.
Maintaining physical health during the pandemic is important. Outdoor exercise is encouraged for safety, as gyms have been associated with spread of COVID. Steps can be taken, though, to reduce the risk of indoor exercise. It is critical to wear a mask. With people around you exerting energy and breathing heavily — combined with what could be poor ventilation — wearing a mask and keeping distance from others while exercising is paramount. Sanitize equipment before touching, and wash/sanitize your hands before and after any exercise. Avoid touching your mask.
The best way for us to understand how much COVID is circulating on our campus is for students and employees to participate in free sentinel testing, when asked. Each week, students and employees at UAB are randomly selected do a quick, easy nasal self-swab test on-campus.
Show off your Blazer pride by wearing UAB masks that you can get easily at the Campus Bookstore.
Experts who contributed to this story include Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., MPH, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases; Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., associate professor of infectious diseases; Ellen Eaton, M.D., assistant professor of infectious diseases; and Rachael Lee, M.D., assistant professor of infectious diseases and epidemiologist at University Hospital.