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Whether you agree with President Biden that the pandemic is over or you agree with most scientists who say it’s definitely not over yet, it doesn’t really matter. The reality is that pandemic precautions have disappeared all around us.
But getting on with life doesn’t mean you have to be careful. Covid is still there and the number of cases is increasing in some communities. We all have to learn to live with covid.
Living with covid can be easy if you take simple, regular precautions. Jay Varma, a physician, infectious disease expert and professor of Public Health Sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, compared this new normal to the adjustments we all had to make regarding security after 9/11. We have become accustomed to additional restrictions around travel, such as taking off our shoes in airline screening lines, as an inconvenience to stay safer.
I have covered the lives of covid and pandemic for nearly three years and have spoken with many of the world’s leading experts in public health and virus transmission. We don’t have to choose between staying safer and living a normal life. We can do both. Here are 10 tips to help, including some of the steps I’m taking to protect myself.
- Get a booster shot. Start by getting vaccinated or getting a booster shot. Read this Q&A for answers to frequently asked questions about the new boosters.
- Mask when it’s easy. No one wants to wear a mask all day, so be strategic. I don’t normally wear a mask at work, but I do wear one in a busy meeting. You may want to mask yourself at the grocery store; it’s a building full of strangers and covid is probably there too. Mask at the doctor’s office or on your commute if you travel by public transport. Risk is cumulative, so every time you put on a mask in a high-risk situation, you reduce your chance of contracting the virus.
- Mask when you travel. Your risk of coming into contact with covid increases as you travel. Decrease it by wearing a mask in the security line and in crowded terminals. Airplanes have effective ventilation systems that filter the air every five minutes, but I still wear a mask. If it’s a long trip and you just don’t want to put on a mask, consider wearing one during entry and exit, when the ventilation system may be switched off. And here’s a travel tip from virus experts: During the flight, turn on the fan nozzle and place it to blow on your face to keep any stray viral particles at bay.
- Avoid crowds. Whether you follow this advice will likely depend on your overall risk. Young and healthy people who have been vaccinated may choose to spend time in crowded indoor spaces. People who are older or have an underlying health condition may: opt for outdoor spaces when it comes to dining, sporting events, and concerts. And for indoor events like going to the movies or the theater, the cautious may still want to wear a high-quality mask.
- Check the transfer levels of the community. Tracking the number of cases in your community can help you make your choices. In the United States, if you’re looking at a chart of transmission levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, make sure you use the drop-down menu to see “community transmission,” not “covid-19 community levels,” which is a indicator of how hospitals manage and not so relevant to personal decision making.
- Have a Paxlovid plan. People over the age of 50 and those at high risk are eligible for Paxlovid, a highly effective antiviral drug. You must start within five hours days from diagnosis or the onset of symptoms, so it’s important to talk to your doctor and have a plan for getting a prescription quickly if you need it.
- Think of your indoor air. Adding a portable air purifier to a room can effectively double the ventilation in the room. Ask your employer to provide portable air purifiers in office and conference rooms. Ask how often the filters are replaced. You can also ask your employer what measures have been taken to improve the indoor air quality in the office. Many workplaces have upgraded air filters to hospital grade quality filters. (Ideally, your workplace uses something called MERV-13 filters, but some systems can only handle MERV-11 filters.)
- Use home tests wisely. While a negative home test means you probably aren’t contagious, it doesn’t guarantee you don’t have Covid. If you have cold symptoms or are not feeling well, especially if you have had known exposure to the virus or been in a high-risk situation, such as traveling or an indoor concert, you should keep away from others or wear a mask until your symptoms subside – even if your test is negative.
- Stay home from work if you are sick. One of the great lessons from the pandemic is that we shouldn’t go to the office with runny noses or a sore throat. Just stay home and zoom in when you feel good enough to work.
- Plan your life around the most vulnerable person in your job. If you have regular close contact with someone who is older, has a chronic illness, or has a weakened immune system, you need to take more precautions and be more vigilant about masking, testing, and avoiding risky situations.
The bottom line is it’s not all or nothing, said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “There are many reasons why we shouldn’t just vaxx and be done. One infection with the virus can very easily sideline you or disrupt your life or that of the people around you very easily.”
Three questions. . . about smarter sports
This week I spoke with Your Move columnist Gretchen Reynolds, who has written about the dangers of being an active couch potato and whether morning or evening is the best time of day to exercise.
Q: Why is it so hard for people to adopt a regular exercise habit?
A: Most people, including me, say it’s because we don’t have time. But most behavioral science says it’s because we’re not having fun. If people don’t like exercise, they won’t do it. The good news is that there are so many ways to be active. Don’t like jogging? There’s swimming, hiking, mountain biking, strength training, pickleball, online yoga, walking with friends, or whatever exercise you enjoy. It can also help to reformulate workouts as “me time” or healthy procrastination. Then you don’t just go for a walk or swim. You take a mental health break and go back to work tomorrow refreshed, alert and enthusiastic.
Q: Which is more important for health: moving more or sitting less?
A: Can I answer “both”? There is no doubt that sitting is bad for us. It affects our bodies in ways that increase our risks for everything from weight gain to heart disease. And new studies suggest that short workouts won’t undo those effects. We probably need to exercise for at least an hour a day to counteract long hours of sitting. Or we can sit less and move more, interrupting our sitting with gentle activity but not formal exercise. Both approaches are healthy, and combining them—exercising more and sitting less—is the healthiest of all, if you can handle it.
Q: What is your favorite short workout?
A: I love fartlek, which simply means picking out a tree or other landmark when I’m walking or running and picking up the pace until I reach it. My fartlek sessions are usually short, maybe 15 minutes. But it’s such a fun, easy way to fit intensity into a workout and make the time go faster. I’m never bored when I fart.
This week’s daily life coach is Shunmyo Masuno, a monk and the author of a new book I’m reading, “Don’t Worry: 48 Lessons on Relieving Anxiety from a Zen Buddhist Monk.”
Advice: Calm your evenings. “One of the tricks to calming down your evening is to avoid making any decisions at this point as much as possible,” Masuno writes.
Why you should try it: In one study, researchers tracked the decisions of 184 chess players. The study, published in the journal Cognition, found that the most accurate decision making occurred between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
How to do that: Adding tranquility to your evening depends on the person. Evenings can be hectic for parents and sometimes we have to take work home. Whatever your situation, try to make some time for rest before going to bed. Some people may want to read a book or listen to music. Make the evening time to work on a craft or hobby. Light a candle. To take a bath. “When you make time for fun, you naturally feel calmer and more at ease,” Masuno writes. “Ultimately, you’ll improve the quality of your sleep and wake up refreshed and ready for your day.”
The Well+Being team has had a busy week! Don’t miss these stories.
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