CDC posts long-awaited tips for minimizing everyday risk

FILE - In this May 21, 2020 file photo, Kevin Gonzales, director of operations at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering, at Boston University, places safe distancing floor markings near an elevator on the school's campus, in Boston. On Friday, June 12, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 coronavirus infection, along with a set of “considerations” for organizing and attending mass gatherings, as people emerge from stay-at-home lock downs and attempting some semblance of normal life. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Take the stairs, not the elevator, down from your hotel room. Encourage people to bring their own food and drinks to your cookout. Use hand sanitizer after banking at an ATM. Call ahead to restaurants and nail salons to make sure staff are wearing face coverings. And no high-fives — or even elbow bumps — at the gym.

These are some of the tips in long-awaited guidance from U.S. health officials about how to reduce risk of coronavirus infection for Americans who are attempting some semblance of normal life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the guidelines Friday, along with a second set for organizing and attending big gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, protests and political rallies.

But the guidelines are “not intended to endorse any particular type of event,” the CDC’s Dr. Jay Butler said in a Friday call with reporters.

The staging and attendance of such events should be in accordance with what local health officials are advising, based on much the coronavirus is spreading in a particular community, he added.

The guidelines are long overdue, some health experts say.

Julia Marcus, a Harvard Medical School infectious disease researcher, has likened stay-at-home suggestions to “abstinence-only” messaging and has pressed for advice to help people minimize risk. She said she was delighted by the CDC’s tips.

“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Marcus said. “These guidelines are really directed toward ordinary Americans trying to make decisions about risk every day.”

But there are notable omissions. There’s nothing about precautions to take before going to church, no guidance about dating and sex and no explicit advice on a topic that some doctors say they get asked all the time: Is it OK to take the kids to visit grandparents?

“Visiting grandma is something I must address three times a week,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert.

“My empathy goes out to the CDC. It’s very, very difficult to have a precise answer for every circumstance,” he added.

Stay-at-home orders, school shutdowns and business closings were followed by a national flattening in the rate of new cases. In recent weeks, many states have started reopening as they face pressure to get the pandemic-damaged economy going again. And cases are rising in nearly half the states, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The CDC has put out many sets of guidelines, including some for churches, camps, schools and transit agencies. But until now, the organization hasn’t offered specific advice to people trying to decide how to safely do things like take vacations, get their nails done, host barbecues, visit a bank or library, go out to eat or exercise at a gym.

Other organizations have been trying to fill the void, and some have addressed questions the CDC didn’t.

New York City’s health department this week released guidelines for having sex during the coronavirus outbreak. The department advised people to have sex only with those who are close to them, and not with multiple partners. It also suggested washing hands before sex, wearing a mask during it, and said “be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.”

The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, called his agency’s new guidelines “common sense suggestions,” not mandates. State or local governments may want to reimpose stricter measures if new outbreaks occur, but that’s a call for them to make, CDC officials said.

The guidelines repeat earlier advice about wearing face coverings, especially if it’s difficult to keep at least 6 feet away from other people.

They also offers a list of questions people should consider before going out, and some things to think about in particular situations. For example, it suggests that house parties be held outside, guests be greeted with a wave instead of a hug and that everyone bring their own food and drinks.