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As restaurants, theme parks, and movie theaters reopen, here's what doctors say is actually safe

One in four Americans feels safe participating in activities like going to an amusement park during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's how to assess risk before you go.

Twenty/20

Many states are starting to allow businesses like amusement parks, restaurants, and movie theaters to reopen. But with coronavirus cases rising around the country, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans (23%) say they feel safe participating in common summer leisure activities, according to data from Morning Consult.

They're right to be cautious, experts say, because even with precautions like masks and limiting the capacity in amusement parks and movie theaters, many of these activities aren't actually safe.

Here's how well consumers' feelings about summer entertainment align with how safe certain activities actually are. 

Dining out

Based on data from early July, 36% of consumers say they feel comfortable going out to eat, according to Morning Consult. If you're considering going to a restaurant, its smart to call ahead to see how they are operating, says Anne-Marie Gloster, an epidemiology professor at the University of Washington.

"Manage your expectations and realize this is going to be different," she says.

Some good questions to ask, according to Gloster, include:

  • Are staff going to wear masks?
  • Are you checking staff temperatures or otherwise screening their health?
  • Do I need to wear a mask?
  • Is there going to be additional sanitizing of shared surfaces like tables and chairs?
  • Am I going to be asked for contact tracing information?
  • Will my temperature be taken at the door?

Gloster and other epidemiologists emphasize that outdoor activities will always be safer than indoor activities because coronavirus droplets disperse more quickly into the air outside. "Outdoor where available is great," she says. 

If you're considering dining out, remember to call ahead to make sure you are comfortable with the service the restaurant is providing, and eat outdoors when possible. 

Traveling

Three in 10 Americans said they feel comfortable going on vacation but only 14% said they would feel comfortable traveling abroad. Experts say there are a number of factors that determine whether traveling is safe right now, but it's good to remember that road trips are better than flying and outdoor activities are better than indoor

Airports have many high-touch surfaces, which makes it easy for Covid-19 to spread. "Travel that needs people to be compacted, whether it's in a train, bus, or plane, will always be high risk," Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician, recently told Grow. 

"Planes are, for me, the scariest, because you are relying on everyone else doing the right thing" before getting to the airport, Galiatsatos adds. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is increased on lengthier flights, he says, because the longer the flight time, the more likely it is that people will remove their masks at times to eat or make themselves comfortable.

As far as destinations go, outdoors is better than indoors. Try to avoid places where you are likely to be frequently among crowds, such as resorts or cruises. Same goes for water parks, experts say: Although they are usually outdoors, they still have many high-touch surfaces like railings and banisters, which can foster the transmission of the coronavirus. 

Camping or hiking in national and state parks is a good way to get out of the house while not putting yourself at great risk for contracting Covid-19. Plus, many trails are free to access. Research what state or national parks are open in your area on a site like All Trails.

Visiting an amusement park 

Several big parks have reopened, including Walt Disney World, Hershey Park, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Universal Studios Orlando. At most, face masks are required and parks are taking other precautions, too, such as adding hand sanitizer dispensers.

But only 17% of consumers say they would feel comfortable going to an amusement park right now, something experts say is probably for the best.

"Face mask policies are going to be the hardest things to implement," Galiatsatos told Grow. "Amusement parks, to me, are going to pose the most severe risk." 

Going to a movie theater

About 1 in 5 consumers say they feel comfortable going to the movies, but medical professionals aren't sure that is a good idea yet. "It's way too early to go back to movie theaters," Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Expert Stewardship in Los Angeles, recently told Grow. 

Even if theaters require masks and limit capacity, which many movie theater chains are doing, experts say that serving food — which all theaters say they will do — makes watching a film in a crowd an unsafe experience. Especially if viewers pick movies with long running times. 

"A reduction in the amount of people who can come in at a time, that's great," Galiatsatos says. "The challenge with movie theaters is people will eat." 

The challenge with movie theaters is people will eat.
Panagis Galiatsatos
pulmonary and critical care medicine physician

At AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, many movies being screened are more than two hours long and the concession stands will be open, so viewers will probably be taking off their masks to eat and drink. Those theaters may then be less safe, he says.

Instead, see if there is a drive-in movie theater nearby where you can watch a movie from the safety of your car. Amid coronvirus concerns, many drive-in theaters are reemerging and presenting themselves as a safe and fun alternative to the movie theater.

Going to a museum

Just 1 in 4 Americans say they would be comfortable going to a museum, perhaps because so many are indoors. Most museums in the country are remaining closed; the ones that are opening are doing so with limited capacity. In Long Island, New York, museums and aquariums will be able to open, as long as they ensure that guests can socially distance while inside. 

But remember, "an indoor business will always have a higher risk of spreading coronavirus than an outdoor business," Galiatsatos told Grow

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