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What health experts do and don’t do during coronavirus pandemic

Updated July 24, 2020 - 3:09 pm

It’s strange how getting a haircut, grabbing a bite to eat and planning a vacation have become so fraught with a sense of anxiety verging on impending doom over the past few months.

But that’s life during the coronavirus pandemic.

We asked Southern Nevada medical and public health professionals how the pandemic has affected what used to be simple activities in their own lives. Their answers reflect the same sort of decision-making process we all engage in now, as we weigh the potential risks and benefits of activities we formerly barely gave a second thought.

Everyday routines

“I wash my hands a lot more than I used to,” said Dr. Marc Kahn, dean of the UNLV School of Medicine, who also carries hand sanitizer everywhere he goes and — like everyone else in this story — takes a mask everywhere.

Sherri Lindsey, chairwoman of the College of Southern Nevada’s nursing department, wears a mask even when picking up her mail. And while research so far indicates that physical contact isn’t a predominant method of coronavirus transmission, Karen Duus, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine, said her husband tries to leave mail in the box during the hottest part of the afternoon and wipes down delivered packages with disinfectant wipes.

To minimize potential exposure to strangers who might be carrying the virus, “I’m limiting outings,” said Dr. Andrew Eisen, a pediatrician and chief academic officer for the Valley Health System. “Limiting trips outside of the home is essential.”

Duus has adopted another everyday routine: keeping track of people with whom she interacts, from coworker to store clerk, in case contact tracing might someday be necessary.

“I just decided to do it two or three weeks ago, when things started to pop up again,” she said.

Shopping

Dr. Staci McHale, an obstetrician-gynecologist and president-elect of the Clark County Medical Society, and her husband also are limiting trips to the supermarket. “We, unfortunately, have not had great experiences with some of the grocery stores.”

Christina Madison, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Roseman University of Health Sciences, said her husband, who does most of the grocery shopping, has “started wearing a face shield in addition to a mask because cases have gone up.”

“I know a lot of people get things delivered, but my schedule is erratic and that won’t work for me,” said Dr. Deborah Kuhls, a trauma and general surgeon and president of the Clark County Medical Society. So she shops when she has to, but never without a mask.

Angela Amar, dean of UNLV’s School of Nursing, is paying more attention to keeping her pantry stocked to minimize shopping trips and the exposure that comes with them and plans out her visits to spend less time in the store and avoid stops for just a few items.

“My freezer probably has more meat in it than it usually does and my pantry is stocked, so when I go, it’s intentional.”

Working out

“I used to go to the gym. I don’t anymore because there’s just too many people. It’s too crowded,” Lindsey said.

Madison used to go to a silks fitness class but hasn’t returned because of crowding and the use of shared “high-touch” equipment. “It’s all about limiting your time and knowing what your risk is.

“Before COVID, I used to work out in a boxing gym. I don’t do that anymore,” Kahn said. Now, he rides a bike on weekends — alone and wearing a mask — and climbs steps at his home.

Travel

McHale and her husband so far have canceled three vacations, all “involving airplanes, and one cruise. Currently, we have no planned vacations.”

“Before COVID, I traveled by plane a lot” for both business and pleasure, Kahn said. “I think the bigger airlines have really taken COVID seriously and are not putting people in the middle seats and have disinfection plans and (people) wearing masks.”

Still, he said, “if I had to fly, I will, but, for pleasure, I’m not.”

Patricia Armour, a professor of clinical laboratory science at the College of Southern Nevada, said, “I wouldn’t get on a cruise ship.”

Madison would avoid flying but also would consider taking a road trip with a hotel stay if it was just “my family unit. I think the hotel and service industry has been so devastated and people are so hyper-aware of what they’re doing.”

However, Duus said, “the only way I’d travel at this point is if I had an RV and we were self-contained.”

“I don’t know how comfortable I would feel with hotels or an Airbnb even,” Amar said. “There are just so many unknowns.”

Dr. Thomas Hunt, chairman of the department of family and community medicine at Roseman University’s college of medicine, would take a road trip if the destination was “the great outdoors around me, so I could minimize interaction with a lot of people.”

Brian Labus, an assistant professor in UNLV’s School of Public Health and a member of the governor’s coronavirus task force, would pass on traveling now, “but I’d have to consider the purpose of the trip.”

“The level of disease in the community is what determines your risk,” Labus said, and now is “the worst time in the outbreak to do those things. Our hospitalizations are higher than in April.”

Dining out

“I’m a foodie. I like to go out to new restaurants and eat,” Hunt said, but “we are now almost exclusively doing takeout and just cooking a lot at home.”

“I’m definitely not going to a restaurant right now,” Lindsey said. “I will pick it up and bring it home.”

Dr. George Alexander, a plastic surgeon, said that if he were to go to a restaurant, “I’d be more comfortable outdoors. But I just haven’t made that step yet.”

For now, he feels more comfortable ordering takeout and “eating in my own home. There’s total freedom and you don’t have to worry about anything.”

Barbers and salons

“I did finally return for my first haircut since October a week ago,” McHale said. “I was the only customer there, and everyone there was provided with masks. It was only a cut, not a hair color, and it was out of desperation.”

Lindsey is satisfied with the measures her stylist has in place. “It’s a matter of trust with my hair person, and I go really early in the morning so nobody (is) there.”

“I have started to get haircuts again,” Eisen said. “When I do, I wear a mask and my barber wears a mask. He’s got a drape and he spaces his clients out. I haven’t seen a client before and after me. And if he wasn’t doing those (things), I wouldn’t be comfortable.

In contrast, Labus hasn’t gotten a haircut and has been trimming his own hair. Going to a barber right now, he said, “seems to be an unnecessary risk.”

Entertainment

Unless a concert, play, show or entertainment or sporting event “was outdoors, I would be very cautious,” Madison said. “No large gatherings, nothing where more people were around, especially in close proximity.”

Madison was thinking a few weeks ago of taking her children to a local water attraction, then saw Fourth of July photos of crowds there not socially distancing. They didn’t go.

Eisen — who has tickets to Las Vegas Aces games and is looking forward to UNLV football — said he wouldn’t go “to a movie theater or sporting event at this point, and I’m pretty torn up about that.”

It’s all about being able to control your personal space. So, Armour said, a concert, “I might stay away from because it’s harder to control social distancing. But a movie, going bowling, those areas where you could control where people are at make sense to me.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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