Jun 24, 2020
Enjoying summer safely
Get outdoors, but stay aware of sun, heat and insect-borne illnesses, clinicians are urging, as Americans spend more time exercising and socializing outside amid coronavirus restrictions.
“From a health perspective, COVID is still serious and still a threat, and we encourage people to follow Department of Public Health and state guidance about continued precautions as we begin to reopen. But as we’re all encouraged to get outside given a lower risk of COVID-19 transmission, we can’t forget that seasonal health issues still exist,” says Dr. Katherine Dallow, vice president of clinical programs and strategy at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Before heading outside, Dallow encourages us
to follow these summer safety tips:
- Stay sun safe
Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection on all exposed skin, and reapply it every two hours regardless of SPF rating or more if you are swimming or sweating. “Consider a mineral-based sunscreen instead of a chemical-based one because it reflects UV rays away from the skin, and make putting it on part of your everyday routine like eating breakfast and brushing your teeth,” Dallow says. Wear sunglasses, a broadbrimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt or clothing with built-in sun protection, and try not to go outside midday when the sun is most intense. Dallow also advises doing monthly skin checks according to the ABCDEs to help identify concerning moles: Asymmetry (half of the mole doesn’t match the other), Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color.
- Keep critters away
Dallow advises applying insect repellant with EPA registered active ingredients such as DEET that are appropriate for the age of the person to ward off ticks and mosquitoes that can carry and transmit Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and to bathe before bed to wash it off. Dallow also recommends wearing pants tucked into long socks, especially if you will be hiking or walking in high grass, and avoiding activities at dawn and dusk. When you come in from the outdoors, check your skin for ticks and a bullseye rash that can indicate a tick bite. “Symptoms of Lyme disease, West Nile and EEE are fever and lethargy—unfortunately the same as COVID-19,” Dallow says. If you notice these symptoms, call your doctor and discuss your recent activities.
- Stay cool and hydrated
As temperatures and humidity climb, Dallow notes it’s important to guard against dehydration and heat stroke by staying cool. “The very young and very old are less capable of dispersing body heat than others,” she said, so special care should be taken to keep babies and the elderly cool. Drink plenty of water: “If you are thirsty, you are past the point when you don’t have enough water in your body.” Make sure you have a fan or air conditioner or cool down by putting a cold washcloth on your neck. Additionally, she recommends checking in on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors, especially now, when many of the climate-controlled places these folks used to go to, such as the mall or senior center, may be closed because of the pandemic. Dallow says to be on the lookout for signs of heat-related illnesses, including a rash, fever, nausea, light-headedness and fatigue.
If you have a medical concern, Dallow says, call your primary care provider as a first step. Many clinicians are seeing patients remotely.
“It’s important to be prepared and take these necessary precautions,” Dallow says. “But the good news is that many of these conditions, including moles, rashes and bug bites, are highly amenable to being evaluated and screened through telehealth before needing to encounter the health care system in person.” And many health plans, including Blue Cross, are covering medically necessary visits with no out-of-pocket costs for members for the duration of the state of emergency.
“We want you to get outside with your family and go for runs and hikes and bike rides,” Dallow says. “But we also want you to be safe.”
PICTURE OF DR. KATHERINE DALLOW BY MICHAEL GRIMMETT