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FRIDAY, June 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Americans need to stay on their guard against COVID-19 even as their communities reopen, health officials warned Friday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two documents posing considerations that people should take into account when deciding whether to go out to eat, hit the gym or attend a friend's barbecue.
"I know people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life," CDC Director Robert Redfield said during a media briefing. "However, it's important that we remember the situation is unprecedented and the pandemic has not ended."
Redfield did praise the American public for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing a new online survey that showed widespread support for public health measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The CDC survey found that nine in 10 people agreed with the 6-foot social distancing rule, and four out of five agreed that groups of 10 or more people should not be allowed. About 80% also supported their state's stay-at-home orders and closure of nonessential businesses.
"Each of you have been active responders to this pandemic, making changes in your life and taking on new challenges in the face of this evolving health threat," Redfield said. "I would like to say thank you for being the individual public health heroes that we need right now to fight this pandemic."
But as states relax COVID-19 restrictions, people will be responsible for making personal decisions that could put them in harm's way and increase coronavirus transmission, said Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director of infectious diseases and the agency's COVID-19 response incident manager.
The new guidelines issued Friday offer average folks advice when deciding whether to go out and whether to attend a large event or gathering.
"Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk right now, and we want to provide you with the information and suggestions you need to make decisions about which activities may be able to resume and what level of risk you may have to accept," Butler said.
"Here's a general rule of thumb," Butler continued. "The more closely you interact with others, the longer the interaction lasts, and the greater the number of people involved in the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread."
The guidelines recommend that people find out whether COVID-19 is spreading in their community and what local orders are in effect to limit transmission.
They also should weigh whether they or another person in their household is at risk for a severe case of COVID-19 that could land them in the hospital, the documents said.
The CDC recommends that people venturing out wear a face covering, carry tissues and hand sanitizer, wash their hands, and maintain social distancing.
"When dining out, see if there's an option to sit outside, or ensure that tables are at least 6-feet apart so you can maintain social distancing. If you hit the gym, don't share items that can't be cleaned or sanitized after use, and refrain from high-fives and elbow bumps, which involve getting closer than 6-feet to others," Butler said.
"If your local library is open, see if curbside pickup is available," he continued. "If you want to gather with friends for a cookout, as much as possible use single-serve options and remind guests to wash their hands before and after eating."
The advice comes as President Donald Trump prepares to resume holding political rallies, complete with COVID-19 waivers that attendees must sign. The Republican Party also has said that people will not be asked to wear masks during its upcoming convention in Jacksonville, Fla.
When asked about these political gatherings, Butler demurred.
"The guidelines, I think, really speak for themselves," Butler said. "They are not regulations. They are not commands. They are recommendations, or even suggestions."
The new CDC survey found widespread support for efforts to contain COVID-19:
- Two-thirds of people felt their communities had struck the right balance in their mitigation strategies.
- Nearly four out of five said they'd self-isolated during quarantine.
- About 80% said they always or often kept at least 6-feet away from other people in public.
- Three-quarters said they always or often wear a face covering while out.
- Three out of four said they always avoid groups of 10 or more people.
The findings were published June 12 in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The actions taken by Americans so far have flattened the coronavirus curve, but people have to maintain vigilance to prevent future outbreaks, Butler said.
"We know the pandemic is not over, and even looking at some of the serology data, it suggests that the vast majority of Americans still have not been exposed to this virus," Butler said.
"This represents an incredible public health achievement, and the American people are responsible for that," Butler said. "The direction of the pandemic is in all of our hands, so let's wash those hands."
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