Half a year since the emergence of COVID-19 and months since cities and states went into lockdown—and, to varying degrees, came out again—we’re more than familiar with the basics of what we should do to protect ourselves: Stay home if you can, social distance when you cannot and wear a mask when you have to be less than arms-length from people.
That guidance is simple—too simple, perhaps. It doesn’t account for the complexities of how to live in a pandemic, or answer the questions that come up every day. Is it safe to return to an office? To undergo procedures at the dentist? To sit in a doctor’s waiting room? If you want to exercise, is shooting hoops smarter than tennis? If you need solace, is a library safer than church?
There’s no federal guidance for such questions, but there are beginning to be guides: color-coded charts that estimate the relative risks of everyday activities. They might look familiar, if you live in a place like Georgia where pollen count sliders tell you when it’s safe to go outside, or if you’ve visited US National Parks, where fire danger signs let you know it’s OK to light a campfire; they are mostly colored in the familiar hazard range of green-yellow-red. They come from individual scientists, from academic researchers, and from professional organizations, and they provide insight and support for the daily decisions of life in a pandemic: the equivalent of a traffic light flashing stop or go.
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