Now that states are opening up again, and a lot of people are required to report back to work, many of us are being forced to navigate new sources of risk and uncertainty. With that in mind, one epidemiologist, Ellie Murray, has a suggestion for how to think about your overall level of risk: Make a contact budget.
As lockdown rules relax, we need to make our own choices: Which contacts are unnecessary? Which can you make safer?— Ellie Murray (@EpiEllie) May 24, 2020
Keep yourself, family, & community safe by making a #ContactBudget. #StayHome if you can; #ReduceYourContacts if you can’t; consider #PeopleTimeSpaceandPlace. pic.twitter.com/Ex8kfDcmL4
A contact budget is a way to think about your overall risk in a holistic way, one which factors in all of your daily interactions. Just as we make a budget for our finances, we can think of our daily interactions, and our overall risk, in a similar fashion.
At the end of the day, when you think on all of the different people you came into contact with, and under what circumstances, what was the sum total of these interactions? Are there ways in which you can reduce your overall number of interactions?
One way to start, as Murray points out, is to gauge the amount of contact you had during lockdown. That’s the foundation for which you’ll assess your overall contact budget.
Start by thinking about how many contacts you had per week during lockdown. For me, that number was very low. And personally I don’t want to increase my contacts too much, but I can try to replace ones I don’t like with ones I do like & keep the total low.— Ellie Murray (@EpiEllie) May 24, 2020
For many of us, we don’t have a choice about whether or not we can continue to work from home. The level of daily interactions we get through our jobs will vary depending on our profession, as well as the precautions instituted by our employers. If you have your own office, with coworkers who are conscientious about washing their hands, wearing masks and maintaining 1.5 metres of distance, this risk profile will look very different from someone who works as a grocery store cashier or at a restaurant.
If you are wondering about how your profession might rank in terms of potential exposure, a NY Times article assessed the overall risk of different jobs, based on the amount of physical proximity to others, as well as the average amount of exposure to disease. Dentists, paramedics, nurses and flight attendants all have high risk levels associated with their profession, while loggers, economists and astronomers have some of the lower risk levels. If you work in one of the higher risk professions, it’s a good idea to try and reduce any other possible sources of exposure.
Find ways to reduce overall exposure
When it comes to other areas of your life, it’s important to think about the ways in which you can reduce your possible exposure, in a way that is meaningful and works for your personal situation. That means staying home when you can and reducing your possible exposure if you can’t.
When deciding on your contact budget, it’s also important to think about the people in your life, and how much risk they can afford.
“The other thing to remember is that when deciding on your own “contact budget” it’s also important to think about those people you need or want to be in contact with & how much risk they can “afford,”” says Murray. “If you want to be able to see your elderly grandmother safely, then you should have a lower contact budget to keep her safe.”
“People, Time, Space and Place”
When it comes to reducing your contact budget, some best practices to consider is to limit the number of people you interact with, keep the amount of time to a minimum, and to meet in outdoor settings when you can. That’s where the concept of “People, Time, Space and Place” comes into play.
Reducing your risk to zero may not be possible, and the fact that states are re-opening means that for some, there will be new and unavoidable risks, but it’s still worth looking at ways you can reduce your overall exposure. A contact budget will help with that.