CHICAGO — You’ll soon be able to see family and friends you’ve been isolated from for months.
Chicago is expected to enter Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan in early June, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week. Moving into that phase means the stay at home order will be lifted and people will be allowed to gather in small groups — 10 people max — once more.
The state hasn’t issued clear guidelines about how people can safely do that, but officials have advised people to keep their groups small and to still practice social distancing.
And people who are most at risk from coronavirus, like those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions, should think about continuing to isolate so they lessen their chance of being exposed to the virus, officials said.
“We cannot eliminate risk, I want to be clear about that,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a May 21 press conference. “So the goal is to use your own personal circumstances to be as responsible as possible … .”
Here are tips from the experts on how you can stay safe while expanding your “quarantine circle”:
People still need to practice social distancing within their small groups, officials said. That means staying 6 feet apart, wearing face coverings and avoiding close interaction.
“Broadly, the safest thing to do is to not have interactions with people closely,” Arwady said. “Every time you have interactions with people, especially within 6 feet, especially without a face covering, you have the potential for spreading the virus.”
And, of course, people should still practice good hygiene, like frequently washing their hands and surfaces they touch.
Spend Time Outside
Dr. Richard Novak, head of infectious diseases at University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s best to socialize outdoors, where there is “good air exchange.” He said indoor spaces put people at a higher risk of transmitting the virus.
Experts have said people are at less risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus when outdoors, though they still need to avoid crowded outdoor areas or doing things like eating outside.
And, yes, even when you’re outdoors you’re advised to wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart from other people.
The people who are most at risk of serious complications from coronavirus are those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
Those people should consider not expanding their quarantine circle just yet, experts said.
“If I am a person with underlying health conditions, if I am a person who is older or both of those, I would probably recommend not expanding that bubble really,” Arwady said.
If you are going to visit a person who is in a high-risk group, be “meticulous,” Novak said: Wash your hands, stay 6 feet apart, wear face coverings, clean anything you touch and do not socialize indoors.
Hugs? Sharing Food?
People should avoid close interactions as they expand their quarantine circles, experts said.
That means you should continue to stay 6 feet apart — and you shouldn’t do things like hug each other, kiss or share food, as much as you might want to.
“Can you hug your grandparents? No. As much as you probably want to, and as much as they want it from you, don’t do it yet,” Novak said.
Who Can You See?
You don’t necessarily need to see the same nine people over and over, but be smart about who you are seeing and how you hang out, officials said.
People should “be thoughtful about who they are letting into their bubble, and that can continue to expand as the summer goes on. It may be something where you’re thinking about extended family” or close friends at first and then slowly expand it, Arwady said.
Novak said your risk of transmitting the virus will be lessened if you see the same people.
If you’re going to hang out indoors, where the risk of spreading the virus is heightened, it’s “best to keep [your circle] to those same people and continue to practice social distancing and wearing masks,” Novak said.
Outside, though, it’s “relatively safer to interact with different people,” Novak said.
Regardless of where you hang out or who you see, you should continue to follow the rules and practice social distancing to avoid spreading coronavirus.
And remember: the limit for groups is still 10 people.
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