Should I return to work? What about train and plane travel? Is it safe to dine out? Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Steve and Deborah Gorlin MGH Research Scholar at the Mass General Research Institute, addresses common questions about navigating the world during COVID-19, and shares expert advice for keeping yourself—and those around you—healthy. 

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Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH: I am Dr. Rochelle Walensky. I am Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. I think it's important to remind people that places that are doing poorly, I think we can see, have demonstrated, as people reopen that they have been cavalier, that they are not wearing this face mask, they are not social distancing, and perhaps not doing the proper hand hygiene that is keeping these infections away. I know that this is exhausting. I understand that this is exhausting, but we are sort of in this for the long haul, and, in fact, I would say it would be unwise for us to let up on any of these mitigation measures, the masking, the social distancing, because I would fear that we would see a resurgence of disease. 

[0:54] I want to remind people that social distancing is tiresome, but really very important. We know that this disease is largely transmitted by droplets, and occasionally aerosols, but those aerosols can't travel very far, and so if we are keeping more than six feet apart from one another, even if we're not wearing masks, we're in pretty good shape in terms of disease transmission. Of course, as we get closer and as we interact in social settings and in the economy and in businesses, we need to keep these masks on, because they not only protect ourselves, but they can protect us from transmitting disease to others. And then the last thing I will just comment on is stay outside. It is beautiful outside, and this disease is very hard to transmit outside. So the more we can do our daily activities outside, the more refreshed we will be and the better off will be.

[Going Back to Work] I get asked a lot of questions about the safety of returning to work, how do I get to work and is it safe to return. A lot of workplaces are opening at decreased capacity, they're trying to open with decreased density, and I believe that is wise. 

[2:02] I understand that the T and public transportation has taken extraordinary measures to make sure that is safe. Most people should be wearing masks, and if both parties are wearing masks, it's generally safe to be a little bit closer than the six feet apart that has generally been suggested. Once you get to work, I would emphasize that you should be wearing your masks at work. You should try and minimize the touch surfaces and try and minimize touching your face. You should have a routine for regularly washing your hands or sanitizing your hands, and I would try not to share computers, phones and whatnot and try and sort of keep to your own surfaces.  

[Traveling by Air or Train] Frequently, people will approach me and say, can I go to, and, can I go by plane or train or car, and this is really ... a harm reduction sort of mentality that you need to take. It turns out, traveling on airplanes is actually reasonably safe and that is because there's quite a bit of air exchange that happens on the airplane itself. 

[2:59] So, ideally, you wouldn't sit close together, but, in fact, a lot of flights are requiring masks and have taken out middle seats. So the airplane itself is probably okay. It's the airports, actually, that I worry more about, where there is less air exchange, there's perhaps more density, and, in fact, people have traveled from all places that might have increased risk than from where you're traveling. So I'd say if you're going to the airport, try and minimize your time there, minimize your touch surfaces and try and just stay away from people. Similar to trains, I would do your best to try and stay a bit distant from the people who you might be sitting next to and try and travel at a time that might minimize the potential that other travelers will be around you.  

[Dining Out] Are we ready to dine out? That's a really great question. I certainly am interested in promoting our restaurants, which I know are really suffering right now. People are gently trying to get back to restaurants, and that I absolutely endorse. 

[3:58] I'm not sure I would be one to sort of make a dinner reservation at seven o'clock, where I expect a lot of people to be there, but I might make a dinner reservation at five o'clock, where I expect, you know, fewer people to be there. I could dine with my family, who I've been socially distancing with, and ensure that there are probably not a lot of other people around me.  

[Get the Medical Care You Need] I want to remind people how important it is to come back to the hospital for your scheduled care. We hear a lot that people are worried about getting COVID-19 in the hospital, and I want to convey that the hospital is an incredibly safe place to be. We are doing symptom checking, we are masking and we have very little transmission, to no transmission, in our walls. But we worry that people who are not getting their care may be suffering from heart attacks and strokes at home, and so please, do come in if you have symptoms that you believe need urgent attention or if you have regularly scheduled care.  

[Get Your Flu Shot] We worry a lot about what might happen into the fall and in the winter, and we worry because one of the metrics that we look at is our hospital capacity.

4:57 In the fall and the winter, we know that our hospital capacity is severely constrained because of influenza. It happens every year. If we have those constraints with influenza, as well as with COVID at the same time, we will really have some challenges ahead with our capacity, and so what I would remind people is in the fall, please, get your flu shot. We know that in the fall we will have a flu shot and that we can prevent influenza. We won't be able to prevent COVID at that time. And the less influenza we have here in the hospital, the more we can care for patients with anticipated COVID-19 surge.  

Please, stay vigilant and stay safe.

For more about Mass General’s response to coronavirus, please visit the COVID-19 page.