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How to have fun this summer while minimizing the risk of COVID-19

Arizonans are beginning to venture back out into the public now that our stay-at-home order has evaporated, but that doesn't mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over. In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are more COVID-positive and -suspected patients in state hospitals than ever before. But this doesn't mean all summer festivities are canceled, it simply means Arizonans should know which events have the greatest risk of viral transmissions

"Everybody's interested in this information," said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the newly appointed director of the Pima County Health Department. "What we are doing is working with as many groups as we can, such as the schools and the hospitals and businesses, to provide them the best information we have, and update that information so people can be guided by the science. I keep saying we have a good basis for our scientific understanding of this, but as we know, we're always gaining more and more information all the time."

While the risk of location and event varies, perhaps the most important variable to keep in mind is yourself: age and pre-existing health conditions (such as heart or lung disease or diabetes) play a major role in your risk of catching the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older. And because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, people with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of having a severe case resulting in pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.

"We can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place," said William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University, in an interview with National Public Radio.

This is a reminder that the more time you spend in public areas increases your risks, but that outdoor areas are much lower risk than indoor areas.

Research indicates that outdoor activities generally hold quite a low risk; camping, hiking, exercising outdoors and going to a lake all pose a comparatively low risk, so long as you can maintain that oft-repeated six feet of social distancing. This is because outdoors generally come with an inherent isolation, and you really just need to be wary of high-contact objects such as drinking fountains and handrails. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the water. So if you're looking for a summer activity, a hike on Mount Lemmon or camping in Madera Canyon are some of your safest bets.

Indoor events such as eating in a restaurant or attending a religious service pose a higher risk due to the larger number of people gathering in a closed area. Luckily, local restaurants are aware of this and taking multiple precautions, such as spacing out their dining areas, increasing outdoor seating and getting rid of reusable menus. So it may do you good to check in with how a restaurant is sanitizing and distancing before you choose where to eat.

Attending a backyard barbeque with a small group is relatively low-risk, so long as you aren't sharing foods, drinks or dishes, and if those you're around have also practiced COVID precaution. Disinfecting common surfaces always helps spread disease.

Unfortunately for the many of us who love air conditioning and dark rooms during these summer months, going to the movies remains a high risk, so much so that many theaters haven't even proposed a reopening date yet. But you can still get your cinema fix with online streaming and support local theaters at the same time. The Loft Cinema has dozens of movies on their website that you can pay to stream online, and Harkins Theatres, with three Tucson locations, have curbside pickup for their snacks so you make movie night at home even more of an event. If you really want to go to the movies, the Loft is renting its theaters to private groups of 10 or fewer, for $100 an hour, and you get to pick the film.

It's also important to keep in mind how long COVID-19 can survive on various surfaces. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can survive four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.

While there are a lot of variables to keep in mind for summer activities, the CDC reminds you that staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. But if you're going to be near other people, mask up!

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