LIMA — Ohioans are tiring of quarantine, prompting a new emphasis on finding low-risk alternatives to staying home.
Cellphone location data show Ohioans are slowly but surely venturing out to malls and restaurants again.
In Allen County, for example, trips to malls, restaurants and other retailers have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels as of May 13, according to the latest Google mobility report, which compares voluntarily shared cellphone location data to the first five weeks of 2020 to understand where and how often Americans are leaving their homes during the pandemic.
And that data doesn’t even include the traffic from the reopening of salons, barbershops or restaurant dining, which opened after the mobility report’s study period.
Public health experts are now accounting for the frustration people are feeling after two-and-a-half months of staying home, often described as quarantine fatigue, to help people find healthy outlets.
“We have to start thinking about these harm reduction approaches — or thinking about low-risk scenarios and high-risk scenarios and what we’re comfortable with in terms of moving forward,” said Dr. Kathryn Lancaster, an assistant professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University, whose work has focused on the spread of HIV and hepatitis among injection drug users.
The idea, Lancaster said, is to acknowledge that the risk for spreading or contracting COVID-19 has not disappeared, while also allowing people to recover a sense of normalcy without jeopardizing their health or the health of others.
While isolating at home is still the safest option, a relatively low-risk alternative would be to meet up with a friend or two, preferably outdoors, where social distancing is easiest to accomplish.
Outdoor group gatherings are a bit riskier but still preferable to indoor gatherings.
There are other strategies too, such as wearing a mask when distancing isn’t possible, frequently sanitizing surfaces or avoiding shared utensils and office supplies.
“(We’re) thinking creatively about how we can minimize risk within those high-risk situations,” Lancaster said.
While researchers still don’t fully understand how prolonged quarantine affected people emotionally, Dr. Ann Johnson, an associate professor of psychology for Ohio Northern University, said the need for social connections is well established.
Johnson said video chats probably helped fill that need in the short term, but it’s still relatively unknown whether virtual connectedness can substitute for in-person interactions.
“People crave and want that social connection,” she said. “It’s good for us. It can be hard to maintain social distance for a long period of time.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.