Young adults in the time of COVID-19
The United States is seeing more young adults testing positive for COVID-19 as cities and states re-open bars, restaurants, salons, gyms, and other businesses where people can congregate. When infected, many healthy young adults have mild symptoms or may even be asymptomatic. When people aren’t very sick, they worry less about spreading it to others, but they can still carry the virus and transmit it to people who may be at higher risk for severe disease.
Here are some tips and guidance to help protect yourself and family members from COVID-19.
Restrictions due to social distancing can be frustrating, however, there are ways to stay safe without being isolated. Consider creating a quarantine family. This is a group of people – a family living together or a small group of friends – who choose to only spend time with each other in order to stay healthy and not catch or spread the virus.
In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer the interaction, the higher risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. When venturing out, keep the following in mind:
- People: Engaging with more people, new people (e.g. those who don’t live with you or those not in your quarantine family), and people who aren’t social distancing or wearing a mask increases risk
- Space: Being close (within six feet) to people increases risk
- Time: Spending longer periods of time (more than 15 minutes) with people increases risk
- Personal hygiene:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a mask when out in public or around others not in your quarantine family
- Cover your cough and sneezes, bring tissues with you when you go out
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces regularly
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, mouth
- Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Remember, if you have COVID-19, symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, it is important to stay home and away from other people.
Before going out, ask about safety measures when making appointments. Ask businesses about:
- Cleaning and disinfecting policies
- Measures to enforce social distancing
- Whether or not employees wear masks, and
- Touchless payment options.
As businesses continue to open, guidelines may change. Stay informed. If you don’t feel confident about safety practices, postpone your visit.
Dining at restaurants
- When making reservations, ask about cleaning protocols and measures to ensure safety like social distancing and staff wearing masks
- Try going to the restaurant during slow hours
- Choose to sit outside and ask to be seated at least six feet away from other parties
- Bring hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes
- Wear a mask when not eating or drinking
- Ask to have just one server for your table
- Avoid salad bars, buffets, drink-filling stations or any spot that uses common utensils or dispensers. If you do have wait in line for service, maintain a distance of six feet.
- Ask for disposables (single use condiments and utensils)
- Ask about delivery or take away options
- Try to pay online or over the phone to limit contact with others.
- If food is being delivered, ask for it to be left outside your home on the porch or in the lobby. Otherwise, stay at least six feet away from the delivery person. After bringing your food home, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
Bars and breweries
If you are a high-risk person (have any underlying health conditions that could put you at increased risk for COVID-19), think seriously about going to a bar.
- A bar is one of the riskier environments. Be prepared to leave if customers can’t keep their distance
- Ask about cleaning protocols and measures to ensure safety like social distancing and staff wearing masks
- Try going during slow hours
- Choose to drink outside and ask to be positioned at least six feet away from other parties
- Bring hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes if possible
- Ask about pick up/take away as an option to enjoy drinks elsewhere in a space less crowded
Hosting gatherings or cook-outs
- Remind guests to stay home if they are sick or have had close contact with a person who has COVID-19. Remember, when you invite a guest to your party, you are, in a sense, inviting everyone your guest has been exposed to, everyone that person has in turn been exposed to, and so on. Considering keeping a list of guests who attended for potential future contact tracing needs.
- Encourage social distancing
- Host gathering outdoors
- Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. People from same households or quarantine families can be in groups together but six feet away from other families
- Consider activities like sidewalk chalk art or frisbee where social distancing can be maintained
- Clean hands often and remind guests to wash hands before serving or eating food. Use single-use hand towels or paper towels
- Limit the number of people handling or serving food
- Encourage guests to bring their own food and drink
- Limit people going in and out of areas (in the kitchen or around the grill) where food is being prepared
- If serving food, identify one person to serve all food and shareable items so that multiple people are not handling items like serving utensils or shareable condiments (salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, etc)
- Use touchless garbage cans
- When making reservations, ask about measures to ensure safety including cleaning protocols, social distancing, and whether or not staff and customers are required to wear masks and/or protective eye gear
- Consider eliminating washing by the salon by washing your hair at home beforehand
- Wait in your car or outside until your appointment begins
- Consider eliminating blow drying and styling
- Do as much of your banking online as possible.
- During visits to the bank, use the ATM if possible. Clean the ATM keyboard with a disinfecting wipe before using it. When done, apply hand sanitizer and wash your hands when you get home.
Working out at gyms
If you are a high-risk person, think seriously about going to the gym.
- Determine if your gym offers outdoor spaces or options for virtual classes or training
- Ask about cleaning protocols and measures to ensure safety like plexiglass barriers, staff wearing masks, closing shared locker room spaces
- Try going to the gym during slow hours
- Things to bring
- Two towels – one to wipe yourself and one to lay on the equipment
- Your own water and bottle
- If you’re a heavy sweater, consider a headband to keep sweat out of your eyes so you don’t keep touching your eyes and wiping your face
- Keep your distance
- The gym will likely enforce social distancing by blocking access to every other cardio machine
- Limit attendance at indoor group training sessions. If you need to participate, consider opening windows to increase airflow throughout the space
- Before using any equipment, spray, wait, wipe, and repeat. Most cleaners need to stay on at least a minute. After working out, clean again for the next person.
- Sanitize or wash hands before moving on to the next equipment.
- Stay on one cardio machine rather than splitting time between different machines
- Avoid using foam equipment (mats, rollers, yoga blocks) or other items that cannot be easily cleaned (resistance bands or weightlifting belts)
- Avoid locker rooms and restrooms if you can
- Avoid water fountains
- Stay away from fans
If you were exposed to COVID-19 through a close contact (someone not in your quarantine family who you interacted with for more than 15 minutes, less than six feet apart while both unmasked), quarantine or isolate yourself from others for 14 days because you may now be contagious.
- When quarantining for 14 days:
- Limit interaction and do not share things (utensils, towels, phones, etc.) with others in your home
- Stay out of public if possible
- Avoid contact with people who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19
- For 14 days after exposure, monitor yourself for symptoms.
- If you have a thermometer, check your temperature 1-2 times a day (goal temperature is under 100F)
- Watch for fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea
- If at any point during the 14 days you develop symptoms, you should be tested right away. Visit here for information on how to get tested.
- If you must go in to work during this time, do the following:
- First check with your employer to determine if they have a policy for those who are out ill or exposed to COVID-19
- Wash or sanitize your hands often
- Clean surfaces you touch regularly
- Wear a mask at work at all times if anyone else is around you
If you remain asymptomatic:
- If you DO NOT live with your close contact, wait at least 5-7 days to be tested. You may even consider testing at the end of your 14 day quarantine period to ensure the most accurate results. (People exposed to COVID-19 can get sick anywhere from 2 days after exposure all the way out to 14 days after exposure, but the average time to illness is 5-7 days).
- If you DO live with your close contact, you will likely have ongoing exposure. If you cannot separate from your close contact within the home, you may need to quarantine for a longer period of time. It is important for you to self-isolate during your contact’s illness PLUS an additional 14 days after your contact is done with his or her isolation. Afterwards, you should be tested.
When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is important to try and limit the spread of the infection to others in the home. Here are some ways to minimize risk:
- If possible, identify one person to be the caregiver for the person who is ill
- Wear a mask
- The person who is ill should also wear a mask when anyone else is in the room, except while sleeping.
- The caregiver and other family members should wear masks when they are in the same room with the person who is ill.
- Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to remove the covering without help.
- The person who is ill should not make food or eat with others in the house
- If a sleeping room must be shared, open doors or windows sometimes to get fresh air inside. Sleep at least six feet apart, hang curtains or put cardboard walls around the person who is ill, and sleep head to toe.
- If a bathroom must be shared, clean doorknobs, faucets, and other surfaces that are regularly touched. Clean each time the person who is ill uses the bathroom.
- Always wash your hands when touching surfaces and items in rooms the ill person also uses. Do not to touch your face with unwashed hands.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested. Here are options for testing at Hennepin Healthcare sites. Please do not let cost stop you from being tested. Insurance companies are covering COVID-19 testing. If you are uninsured or undocumented, please come in for testing as the costs are covered by different state and national funds.
If you are unable to get tested, stay home until all three of these things are true:
- You feel better. Your cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms are better.
- It has been at least ten days since you first felt sick.
- You have had no fever for the last 24 hours, without using medicine that lowers fevers.
While ill at home:
- Consider having family or friends drop off groceries or cooked meals at your door
- Contact your pharmacy to determine if they can deliver medications to your home
- If you must leave home, wear a mask, and wash or sanitize your hands often.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions. If you get tested for COVID-19 and your results indicate you have COVID-19, someone from the health department will give you call with more information and answer your questions.
You may be feeling worried, frustrated, stressed, and/or anxious about COVID-19 or how life has changed during this pandemic. In addition, social distancing may make you feel isolated and lonely. These feelings can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions causing the following:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Further isolation from others
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health problems
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and/or other substances
It is important to take care of your mental health and there are healthy ways to cope:
If you need more help, call your healthcare provider. Your provider will suggest ways to handle stress differently, may give medication, or may send you to a mental health expert.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911 or go to Acute Psychiatric Services (APS) which is right next to the HCMC Emergency Room.
These phone resources can also help:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line, text “MN” to 741741
If you have more questions about staying safe as a younger adult during COVID-19, reach out to your healthcare provider or visit the following resources:
- Minnesota Department of Health
- Mayo Clinic
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- University of California, Davis Health
About the author
Dr. Caitlin Eccles-Radtke is an Infectious Disease and Infection Prevention Specialist at Hennepin Healthcare. She has a focus on HIV and preventative healthcare including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.