The New York Times asked 511 epidemiologists when they might resume hair cuts, shaking hands, air travel, bus rides, and 15 other "normal" activities suspended during COVID-19 social distancing.
As the US tests resuming pre-COVID-19 activities with post-shutdown precautions in place, the New York Times invited ~6000 epidemiologists, including the membership of the Society for Epidemiologic Research, to respond to a survey on when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the pandemic and the public health response to it proceed as they expect. Will the be ready resume this summer, 3-12 months from now, or not for more than a year?
The NYT stresses that survey results, personal opinions of 511 respondents, are not to be seen as guidelines for the public "and incorporate respondents’ individual life circumstances, risk tolerance and expectations about when there will be widespread testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccination for COVID-19."
As survey respondents point out, the virus sets the timeline; answers have nothing to do with calendar time.
Activities many epidimiologists feel ready to resume very soon.
*Largest values in each group are highlighted. Figures are rounded.
Activities eipdemiologists say the will feel more comfortable resuming 3 to 12 months from now.
Epipdemiologists say they also will feel more comfortable resuming these 5 activities 3 to 12 months from now--although as many as 4 in 10 won't feel comfortable doing any of these for another year.
More than half of the epidemiologists responding to the survey won't feel ready to go to a large spectator event or doff the face mask for good for at least a year from now; shaking hands, socializing with an acquaintance, wedding/funeral/religious service attendance are a year away for more than one-third.
The NYT notes there was concensus that outdoor activities are less risky than indoor ones and that masks will be necessary for a long time. Availability of a vaccine will help some reconsider indoor activities again but others won't feel comfortable getting back to any of the 20 everyday behaviors, inside or out, until the vaccine is available.
The range of comfort levels was highlighted by disagreements on timing for resuming activities inlcuding hair cuts at salons and going to a friend's home for dinner.
In weighing risks vs benefits of resuming activities, epidemiologists agreed that emotional well being has to be a consideration when decisions are made. Attending a funeral would be prioritized by some and some would consider sending children to camp this summer for the child's mental health and educational benefits as well as to help preserve harmony in the household.
Respondents included members of the Society for Epedemiologic Research as well as individual scientists.
While the data make interesting reading, a group of 300 epidemiologists wrote to the NYT to say that being confined to expressing comfort level in terms of calendar time only "limits our ability to provide our expert opinions about when we will feel safe enough to stop social distancing ourselves.”
Many more comments from the respondents on variables beyond time that will inform their decisions on life and social distancing can be found in the NYT article.