COVID-19: Businesses are reopening. Is it safe for cancer patients to go out?

As states begin to lift coronavirus stay-at-home orders and reopen businesses, people are beginning to venture out in public more frequently.

But is this safe for cancer patients, who are at increased risk for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? Is it OK to go out to eat at restaurants now? What about going to the beach or parks? Do you need to wear a mask in public? What about social distancing?

We spoke with infectious diseases and infection control specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D., to find out what cancer patients and survivors need to know as businesses start to reopen.

Is it safe for me to go out now, if I’m still in cancer treatment?

Cancer patients and survivors are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. So, you should continue to stay home, whenever possible.

Every patient is different, so check with your care team about your specific risk. Many types of cancer treatment weaken the immune system. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy (including CAR T cell and CAR NK cell therapies) and even radiation therapy can all reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection.

Stem cell transplant recipients are particularly vulnerable, because their immune systems are deliberately destroyed before a transplant, to ensure proper grafting of the donor’s stem cells.

What if I’m several years out from cancer treatment?

Generally, even long-term cancer survivors should continue to stay home. But it’s also important to contact your care team for guidance. They can help address your specific concerns and your particular situation.

Some treatments, especially stem cell transplants, leave patients with weakened immune systems for months or even years after treatment has ended. This can make them more vulnerable to infections than other cancer patients. 

Since we still have no vaccine or approved treatment for the coronavirus yet, it’s important not to get complacent. Continue practicing social distancing and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly.

What if I’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered? Is it safe to go out now?

Doctors aren’t sure yet if people who have recovered from the coronavirus will have any immunity, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Continue to stay home as much as you can, and limit outings to necessities, such as grocery shopping. Or, if possible, have groceries delivered or do curbside pickup — or have a household member or friend run these errands for you.

Doing so will not only minimize your risk of contracting the virus again, if it turns out you don’t have immunity. It will also keep you from infecting other people, if you’re still shedding the virus.

Is it safe for me to go to open air spaces, like parks and beaches?

There is always some risk in visiting these places, if only because you’ll almost certainly need to use a public restroom at some point, which means touching surfaces that others have touched. But you can minimize that risk by wearing a mask, staying at least six feet away from other people and washing your hands frequently.

Keep in mind that there have now been a few instances in which people’s dogs and cats have contracted COVID-19. If domesticated animals can catch it from humans, that means they may be able to pass the infection back to humans. So practice social distancing with your pets, too. Don’t let your dog play with other animals or their owners at a dog park. And don’t let strangers pet or interact closely with your animals while out in the neighborhood.

Do I need to wear a mask when I go out in public?

Many cities and localities are requiring people to wear a mask when going out in public.

Cancer patients should wear a face mask or fabric mask anywhere they go. For everyone else, it’s a good idea to wear a cloth face mask when going out in public as an added precaution. That’s because social distancing can be harder to maintain in these spaces.

Wearing a mask can also provide a visual cue, reminding others to keep their distance. This can be especially important for cancer patients, who are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19.

Is it safe for other members of my household to go out?

It’s less risky for household members who don’t have cancer to go out for essential errands such as grocery shopping, getting gas or going to the drug store. But any time someone goes out, they run the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and bringing it back home.

That’s why it’s best for everyone to continue staying home and practicing social distancing.

Is it safe for me to go to my appointment at MD Anderson?

Yes, it’s safe for cancer patients to come to MD Anderson, as we continue to take precautions to keep our patients safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here are the precautions we’re currently taking:

  • All patients enter MD Anderson through designated entry points, where patients are screened for COVID-19.
  • Face masks are required for everyone coming onto our campus. This includes all employees in all patient care areas. Face masks will continue to be disseminated at all screening entry points.
  • New patients traveling from certain areas outside of Texas are required to self-quarantine, including patients who live in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington state, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Miami. Learn more about restrictions for out-of-state patients.
  • Visitors are currently restricted at MD Anderson, with some limited exceptions.

Our operations remain responsive to the needs of our patients and our employees during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are a current MD Anderson patient with concerns about coming to MD Anderson during this time or you want to talk to your care team about virtual care options, contact your care team through MyChart or by calling the clinic.

What if I need to travel by car or plane to get there?

Different states have different self-quarantine requirements and travel restrictions, so check with local authorities for the most up-to-date and accurate information on those.

Your MD Anderson care team is still the best resource to help you decide whether and when you should travel to maintain your cancer treatment/surveillance schedule. In some cases, your care team may be able to provide virtual visit options.

What do I do if I suspect I have COVID-19?

Contact your MD Anderson care team right away, but don’t go to your doctor’s office without calling ahead first.

Stay at home and separate yourself as much as possible from the other people in your household. Wash your hands and clean high-touch surfaces in your area often. Cover your cough, and take your temperature twice daily to monitor your progress. If your temperature is over 100.3 and you have other COVID-19 symptoms, contact your doctor.

Contact your care team to report any changes in your condition and follow any instructions they give you.

When will it be safe for me to go out again?

Until we have a coronavirus vaccine, a proven, effective treatment for COVID-19, and/or no community transmission of the virus, there will always be some risk associated with leaving your home. Any time you are out in public, there is a danger of contracting the coronavirus. So, stay home as much as possible and contact your care team if you have any questions.

Learn about MD Anderson’s COVID-19 precautions.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.