As the temperatures soar into the 90s and the days get longer, it’s a sure sign summer is almost here. Normally, summer is the time when kids rejoice because they are no longer at school and families look forward to trips, baseball games, fireworks and other fun traditions.
This summer is undoubtedly going to be a little different, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Kids have not physically been in a classroom in months, so the last day of school will feel a little different this year. Traditional family summer vacations have been disrupted. Baseball season is on hold indefinitely.
With COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout our communities, we all need to continue taking precautions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and stay safe. And because of the disease, many traditional summer events and activities may not happen, or at least not as they normally do.
While summer may be different this year, it can still be fun and an opportunity to make some new and lasting memories. We all just have to take the proper precautions to stay safe and healthy.
Because of COVID-19, a lot of things about this summer will be different. As of mid-May, it is unclear whether parents will be able to send their kids to day camps, like those provided by Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA and various churches. It is also unknown if overnight camps will be permitted. Many of the go-to summer recreational activities, such as amusement parks, baseball stadiums and recreation centers, remain closed for the time being.
Hopefully, the spread of the virus will slow down soon, allowing these types of activities to gradually return. Even when they do, we must continue to take precautions to protect ourselves from COVID-19, including:
Wash your hands: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when hand washing is not possible.
Disinfect high-touch surfaces: Use disinfectant wipes to clean frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, light switches and cell phones.
Don’t touch your face: This is one of the most common ways germs get into our bodies. Avoid putting your hands to your mouth, nose and eyes.
Six-foot separation: As long as the virus is still around, it will remain important to maintain a six-foot separation between yourself and others who are not members of the same household.
Wear a face covering: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends every adult and child over the age of 2 have their mouth and nose covered when out in public. Any cloth mask or bandanna will do. The heavier-duty, N95 respirator masks should be worn only by medical professionals and first responders. Wearing face coverings will help to contain the spread of the virus and other germs. For information on how to make your own face covering, visit the CDC’s site.
Until there is a vaccine available, everyone must continue to take these precautions to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
Enjoying the Great Outdoors
With many traditional summer plans on hold for the time being, more people will probably look to the outdoors for summer recreational opportunities, where it is easier to distance from others. Fortunately, there is no shortage of opportunities to spend time outdoors in North Texas; we are fortunate to have access to multiple hike and bike trails, city parks, lakes, rivers and state parks.
Just because you are outside does not mean you can completely let your guard down on COVID-19, however. If you are on a running or bike trail, you should still keep a minimum six-foot distance from others at all times. In state parks, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) requires a minimum six-foot separation from individuals in a different party and prohibits groups larger than five people if not from the same family or household. Face coverings are strongly encouraged, as well.
Planning family time outdoors might be just the answer to the question of what to do over the summer during a pandemic. But the outdoors in Texas, especially in the summer, poses its own set of health and safety concerns.
Keep Your Cool
Anyone who has lived in North Texas for any length of time knows that we experience very hot summers, especially in July and August. “Texas summer heat is nothing to mess around with,” warns Dr. Charles Cook, a family medicine doctor. “It’s easy to get dehydrated or even suffer heat exhaustion”
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses too much water and salt from their bodies, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and shallow breathing. If you experience symptoms such as these, get to a cool area (preferably inside) and drink plenty of water or other fluids, as long as they’re not carbonated or alcoholic. Applying a cool cloth or taking a cool bath can also aid recovery from heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is far more dangerous. Heat stroke occurs when the body gets extremely overheated and is unable to regulate its internal temperature. A person suffering from heat stroke can quickly reach a temperature of up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heat stroke include hallucinations, chills and dry, hot skin. If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and get the person to a cool area and soak them in cool water.
Drinking plenty of water, along with wearing loose-fitting and light-colored clothing (light colors reflect sunlight, whereas dark colors absorb it) are two of the most important things you can do to avoid heat-related illnesses in the summer. If you’re camping, hiking or otherwise going to be outside for an extended period of time, be sure to have plenty of water with you at all times. Take breaks in the shade as needed to rest and cool down. Avoid exerting yourself during the hottest parts of the day. These guidelines are important when at home also; save outdoor activities like yard work and walking the dog for early in the morning or later in the evenings, when the temperature is not as hot.
Protect Your Skin & Eyes
The heat isn’t the only reason to stay in the shade. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn almost immediately, causing skin to redden and become painful and itchy. More problematic, sustained sun exposure can damage the skin’s cells over the long term and lead to cancer of the skin, the most common type of cancer among both women and men in the United States.
There are two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate the skin and are responsible for premature aging signs, such as wrinkles and spots. UVB rays primarily affect the surface of the skin, causing sunburn.
The key to beating back those harmful UV rays is a good sunscreen. Sunscreens are classified by their Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen provides, but an SPF of 60 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 30.
Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after getting out of the water, if swimming. If you’ve got some sunscreen in the cabinet from last year, check the expiration date before you use it. Sunscreen that is out of date is less effective, so you should replace it.
“Sustained exposure to the ultraviolet light from the sun will damage the skin, resulting in accelerated aging, wrinkles and potentially skin cancers,” explains Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine physician. “To protect yourself, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.”
Finally, wear a hat with a brim that will shade your face, ears and neck and wear sunglasses that provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
Keep the Pests Away
Whether out in the woods or at home in your backyard, there are no shortage of pests native to North Texas. You will make your summer more enjoyable by protecting yourself against their bites and stings.
Usually, mosquitos are simply annoying – when they bite us, we experience an itching and stinging sensation for a while. However, mosquitos can also carry viruses, including West Nile and Zika, two diseases for which there is no cure yet. Fortunately, there have been no cases of Zika in the United States since 2017. West Nile virus is still present, however.
Most people who are infected with West Nile virus never know it, as it usually produces no symptoms. In about 20% of cases, West Nile virus can cause body aches, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and rash. While these symptoms do typically subside, fatigue can continue for a few months.
In less than 1% of West Nile cases, serious neurological illness, such as meningitis or encephalitis, can result. Permanent brain damage is possible in these cases and around 10% of people who get this form of West Nile will die. People over the age of 60 are most at risk.
To protect your family from mosquitos and the illnesses they can carry, do not allow standing water near your house. Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, so be sure to eliminate any empty containers from your yard and fill in any low spots that do not drain well.
When outdoors, protect yourself from mosquito bites by using an insect repellent with DEET, which has proven effective at repelling the types of mosquitos known to carry West Nile virus. “Apply insect repellent to any exposed skin, such as your arms and legs,” says Dr. Andrew Hoover, a family medicine physician. “You should also spray some into the palm of your hand and then rub it on your face for maximum protection. Insect repellent can and should be used with sunscreen.”
Some insect repellents also provide protection against ticks, which can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses. Protection from ticks, in addition to mosquitos, is important if your family’s summer plans include camping or hiking in the woods. The CDC recommends utilizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s online tool to identify the insect repellents that best suit your needs.
There are two types of poisonous spiders in the United States and both are present in Texas: the brown recluse and black widow. A bite from one of these spiders causes intense pain, redness and swelling and can lead to skin necrosis, in which the cells in the skin begin to die. If you’ve suffered a bite that is producing unusually painful or long-lasting reactions, get to a doctor or hospital right away. Venomous spider bites can be treated with oral and intravenous antibiotics. Lessen your chances of spider bites by taking precautions in heavily wooded areas, such as wearing long clothing and close-toed shoes.
Fire ants can be a threat both in the yard and in nature. The small ants, which are not native to Texas but have infested most of the state, swarm their victim when disturbed, delivering painful bites that will manifest into a small white pustule that will itch or hurt for hours afterward. Teach your children to never kick over an ant mound and walk around them to avoid disturbing these hostile insects. If bitten apply some over-the-counter itch relief cream or solution.
While a bite from a poisonous snake is a scary proposition, keep in mind that such incidents are relatively rare. In fact, there are more deaths caused by lightning strikes in Texas than by snake bites. Snakes generally try to avoid humans and will only strike if they feel threatened. Still, it’s important to be vigilant, especially if hiking or camping in the woods or near a lake.
Texas is home to all four types of venomous snakes found in the Unites States: rattlesnakes, coral snakes, copperheads and water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths. Visit the TPWD website to view images and learn more about these snakes.
To avoid unwanted contact with snakes, steer clear of brushy or rocky areas. When hiking, always step over logs instead of on top of them, lest you disturb a napping snake.
In the unlikely event that you or someone you are with is bitten by a snake, seek emergency medical attention immediately. Do not attempt to treat the wound yourself – old wives’ tales about sucking the venom out of the wound or cutting near the puncture are very dangerous.
If you see a vine or a shrub with a three-leaf formation, steer clear of it. It may well be poison ivy. The allergic reaction the plant’s oil causes when it comes into contact with human skin can lead to intense itching. While it’s not a serious threat to one’s health, it can make you miserable. Less common in Texas are poison oak and poison sumac – both plants produce reactions similar to poison ivy. If you do come in contact with one of these plants, the best treatment is to wash the affected area with cool water and use calamine lotion to relieve itching.
Staying Safe Around Water
Some of the most common accidents in the summer involve the water. Drowning is the fifth-leading cause of injury-related death for people of all ages and the second leading cause for children age 14 and younger. That’s why it is so important to never leave children unattended in the water, whether it’s at the pool or the lake.
Teaching children to be strong swimmers is crucial to keeping them safe in the water. However, even if your child is adept at swimming, parents cannot let their guard down around the water.
“When young children are in the pool, it is imperative that there be a designated adult watching them continuously,” says Dr. Ledbetter. “In the time it takes to answer a phone call or read a text message, a child can go underwater and drown. Stay close by the pool and keep your eyes on children at all times.”
For people who have pools at home, installing a safety fence at least four feet high around the pool is highly recommended to prevent young children from getting in the water unsupervised.
We’re fortunate to have many beautiful lakes and rivers in Texas to enjoy during the summer. With people adapting travel and vacation plans because of COVID-19, Texas parks and lakes may be even more crowded than usual this summer.
Keep in mind, alcohol and water are a dangerous combination. According to TPWD, alcohol plays a role in one-half of all boating accidents. Furthermore, the same rules that apply to driving also apply to boating in Texas: if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher, you can be charged with boating while intoxicated.
Lifejackets are also a must if you’re in a boat. Texas law requires that every boat contain one life jacket for each person on board and that all children under the age of 13 wear a life jacket at all times (in a boat less than 26 feet long). TPWD reports that 85% of boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket. Wear one – it can save your life.
Leave the Fireworks to the Pros
Independence Day wouldn’t be the same without fireworks – but enjoy them as a spectator, not a participant. Privia Medical Group North Texas has some experienced, respected orthopedic hand surgeons – they’re here if you need help, but they would prefer the reason for your visit not be that you lost a finger to fireworks.
Shooting off fireworks inside city limits is illegal and for good reason – in addition to the danger to you, fireworks can burn down someone’s house. Even in the country where it may not be illegal, it’s still not a good idea. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 10,000 firework-related injuries occur each year, and the impact of these injuries are often life-changing.
“When you celebrate the Fourth of July, do it safely,” says Dr. Nathan Lesley, an orthopedic hand surgeon. “Leave the fireworks to the professionals and avoid a trip to the emergency room.”
Make It a Great Summer
The summer of 2020 will no doubt be long remembered because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive disruption it is has caused in our lives. But just because our usual summer activities may not be possible does not mean we can’t create some new, great memories with our families. So, get outside and enjoy all Mother Nature has to offer. Remember: stay safe, stay healthy and stay cool!
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