COVID-19: Decision Tool for Individuals and Families

Eight icons for COVID-19 prevention: Stay Home, Wash Hands, Avoid Crowds, Use Sanitizer, Wear mask, keep distance, use tissue, don't touch faceCOVID-19 is still spreading across Wisconsin communities. We can all do our part to protect our communities by limiting contact with others and avoiding nonessential trips out in the community as much as possible.

We know that many people do not have a choice of where they work or live, and that some cannot engage in prevention practices because of underlying conditions and systemic racism. It is because of this that we must come together as a community to protect each other. For each of us to do our part, it is important to think about how our own choices might harm others we come into contact with. Every contact you have with others puts you at more risk to make yourself sick or spread COVID-19 to your friends, family, and members of your community.

If you are thinking about leaving your home to participate in activities within or outside of your community, the decision tool below can help you decide. Ask yourself the questions in each section to think through how your decision might impact yourself and the people you are in contact with.

For more information on how to stay safe while participating in activities in your community, consult the DHS Community and Faith-Based page and your local or tribal health department.


Making safe choices

Use this tool to think through how your decisions might impact others, what you can do to reduce risk, and if there are activities to do instead. These questions should not be used to decide whether to do necessary activities, such as going to work or school, accessing needed medical care, grocery shopping, or other basic needs. Be sure to follow best practices for safety (found at the bottom of this page) when taking part in these activities.

You should not use this decision tool if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have been diagnosed or recently had close contact with a person who has COVID-19. Limit interactions in your community and with others as much as possible to avoid infecting others and get tested if you haven’t already.

Expand the tab under each question to learn why it matters to ask it.  

Home

Are you, or someone you live with, at high risk for severe infection or becoming hospitalized from COVID-19?

Why it matters

Older adults (age 65 and older) and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

If you are at high risk or live with someone who is, it is important to take extra precautions to minimize risks.

If you get sick, do you have access to health care or a hospital where you can get care? Do you have health insurance that will cover your treatment if you get sick with COVID-19?

Why it matters

If you develop symptoms, you may need to seek medical care. A health care provider will need to bill insurance for the cost of your care, or you may need to cover the costs yourself (also called out-of-pocket).

If you don’t have a doctor, contact 211 to be connected to resources that can help you access testing and care. Many clinics in Wisconsin provide services for people with little or no insurance, including free and low cost clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), rural health centers, and tribal health centers.

Do you have to go out into your community for work purposes?

  • Does your work, or getting to work (for example, public transportation), require you to spend time in areas where you cannot practice physical distancing?
  • Does your work, or getting to work, require you to be in contact with people who are at high risk for severe infection or becoming hospitalized from COVID-19?
  • Does your work, or getting to work, require you to be in contact with vulnerable populations that could face additional difficulties from increased exposure to the virus? Examples of these populations include people experiencing homelessness, people with substance use disorders, people who live in multigenerational housing, or uninsured individuals.
Why it matters

If your work requires you to spend time in areas where you cannot practice physical distancing or to interact with vulnerable populations or people who are at high risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, you should take extra precautions while out in the community to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 to the people you work with.

It is harder to maintain at least 6 feet of distance in vehicles and on public transportation. Consider alternative methods of transportation, if you have access to them, in order to help those who depend on public transportation stay safer.

Are you able to self-quarantine (stay at home away from others) for 14 days if you or someone you live with has come into contact with someone who has COVID-19?

  • Is there room at home to completely self-quarantine from others that you live with? Can you have your own bathroom? How much contact would you have with the people you live with?
  • How much contact with shared surfaces would be required with others who do not live in your household? Consider apartment buildings that may require the use of shared doorknobs, elevators, mailboxes, and laundry machines.
  • Do you have a 14-day supply of food and medications at home to be able to avoid trips to the grocery store and pharmacy? If not, can you get and store these supplies easily?
  • Do you have the ability to take time off from work or work remotely?
  • Does anyone rely on you for care, such as a child, neighbor, or other dependent? Can you take time off from work to care for them if they get sick? If you are sick, will it impact your ability to care for them?
Why it matters

If you or someone you live with becomes sick with or comes into contact with someone who has COVID-19, you may be asked to stay at home away from others for 14 days. During this time, you will need to stay away from others as much as possible, including others in your own household.

You will need to have enough food, medications, and other supplies to last for at least 14 days, or be able to get and store them without having contact with others (for example, by using contactless delivery services, or asking friends, family, neighbors, or community organizations to help you).

You will also not be able to leave home to go to work, so you will need to be able to take time off or work remotely.

Children will need to stay home from school or day care.

If you develop symptoms, it might also impact your ability to care for others who depend on you.

Do you have access to hand sanitizer and cloth face coverings to use while you are out in the community? Are you able to wear a cloth face covering safely?

Why it matters

To stop the spread of COVID-19, it is important to wash or sanitize your hands frequently and wear a cloth face covering in public spaces where physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

Some people cannot wear a cloth face covering safely. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the covering without help. In addition to medical considerations, previous traumatic experiences or fear of racial profiling or discrimination may also keep someone from wearing a cloth face covering safely. Access to multiple, clean, or appropriate face coverings may also be a barrier.

Do you have access to technology and stable, affordable internet connection for virtual alternatives to in-person activities?

Why it matters

If you have access to technology and a stable internet connection, you may be able to find suitable alternative activities to enjoy from the comfort of your home without needing to go out into the community.

Activity

What is the nature of the activity?

Do you need to participate in this activity to meet your basic needs, such as food, water, health care, shelter, or personal safety?

Why it matters

These questions should not be used to assess the potential risk of necessary activities, such as going to work or school, accessing needed medical care, grocery shopping, or other basic needs. Be sure to follow best practices for safety (found at the bottom of this page) when taking part in these activities.

If this is not an activity that is necessary to meet your basic needs, it may be worth considering alternatives that don’t require you to be out in your community.

Will you be within 6 feet of others during the activity or to get to it (for example, using public transportation)? How long will the activity be?

Why it matters

Being less than 6 feet away from others increases your risk of infection and infecting others. It is harder to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between riders on public transportation. Consider other methods of transportation, if you have access to them, to help those that depend on public transportation stay safer.

Spending more time with people who may be infected increases your risk of infection, and increases their risk if there is any chance you may already be infected.

Being in close contact (within 6 feet) with someone for as little as 10–15 minutes increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Will the activity take place indoors or outdoors?

  • If the activity is scheduled to take place indoors, can it be moved outdoors?
  • If the activity must take place indoors, is the area well ventilated?
Why it matters

There is some evidence that COVID-19 spreads less easily in outdoor settings. If possible, move your activity outside to reduce risk. Outdoor spaces are safer than indoor spaces. If the activity must be indoors, wear a face covering, make sure you can maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance, and ensure the area is well ventilated by increasing the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. You can do this by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods.

Note: it is important to ensure physical distancing. Set up chairs, tables, or other visual cues to help people keep distance.

Will you have to share any items, equipment, or tools with other people? Will you be able to disinfect them between users?

Why it matters

There is some evidence that COVID-19 can spread through shared surfaces. If you can, choose activities where there is limited sharing of items and where any items that are shared can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses.

Can you do other activities that put yourself, others, and your community at lower risk?

Why it matters

By going out into the community, you increase your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and spreading it to others you may come into contact with. For example, instead of traveling to a campground, are you able to set up a tent in your backyard? Could you run a sprinkler or hose in your backyard to cool off instead of visiting a public pool or splash pad?

How do all of these factors (other participants, physical distance, time, ventilation, shared surfaces, alternative options) interact?

Why it matters

Multiple factors impact how much risk there is in an activity. It is important to consider factors together when assessing the risk of an activity. For example, if an activity will be longer, can you increase the physical distance between people, move the activity outdoors, and avoid touching the same items? If an activity must be indoors, can people spread out and the length of time be shortened?

Who else is participating?

What about the other people participating in this activity?

If they are not people that you live with, consider how they may answer the questions in the "Your Home" section.

Why it matters

Those that you interact with are at risk for exposure to or illness from COVID-19. Each interaction increases the chance you could be exposed to COVID-19 or spread it to others. Consider how your actions and choices may impact others and how it may impact them if they are infected or become ill with COVID-19.

How many other people will you interact with? How many other households will be coming?

Why it matters

Activities with people coming from many different households pose a higher risk. This is because there is a higher likelihood that someone present has been infected or exposed to COVID-19. You may also have been infected or exposed to COVID-19 without knowing, so participating in activities with a large number of people and with people who you don’t already live with could result in a large number of infections.

Are you participating in other activities with these individuals already?

Why it matters

Keeping the circle of people you interact with small, and limiting it to a group of the same people helps to reduce the number of people you may expose to COVID-19. For example, it may be safer for your children to play with other children from their classroom or day care whom they are exposed to already, than having play dates with many different families. You may also consider establishing a “pod” of the same small group of friends that do activities together but do not have additional contacts with others outside of that specific group.

What other activities do the people you are going to interact with participate in?

  • Are they mostly staying home?
  • Do they have to go to work? Is it in a high-risk setting like health care?
  • Do they wear a face covering and practice good prevention when they do go out into the community?
Why it matters

Interacting with someone who is going out in the community often may be riskier than seeing someone who is mostly staying home. It also may be riskier to interact with someone who is going out in the community and not taking the precautions to help protect others they may encounter while out.

Community

Community conditions

Are there any local orders, guidance, recommendations, or plans for reopening?

Why it matters

Some local areas have clear plans for reopening that may define what activities are safe or not. There may also be fines, fees, or other penalties in place for not following an order.

Is COVID-19 spreading in your community?

Check with your local or tribal public health department to see if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.

If your local or tribal public health department doesn’t provide this data, use DHS Activity Level dashboards for your county or region.

Why it matters

Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may still be infected and spread COVID-19 to others you might interact with, both in your own community or in other communities where COVID-19 spread may be lower.

If the activity takes place outside of your local community, have you checked the local conditions for your destination to see if COVID-19 is spreading there?

Why it matters

You could be exposed while you are there or expose others in that community.

DHS has more information on our travel page.

Does your community have access to community testing sites?

Use this map to see where community testing sites are located throughout Wisconsin.

Why it matters

Testing is an important tool to help identify if people are infected with COVID-19, which helps to stop the spread of the virus. Not all Wisconsinites are able to access testing through a doctor. Community testing sites have been set up to help more people have access to testing. If you test positive, you may need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Rather than having to guess at how low or high current risk may be, widespread testing also helps public health officials more accurately understand the community conditions.

Are there community-specific factors that may increase risk for spreading COVID-19?

Why it matters

There may be a higher risk of COVID-19 spreading faster in communities with frequent close contact (for example, if many people take public transportation or there is only one grocery store where everyone shops). There may also be higher risks for communities that have fewer resources to prevent or treat COVID-19, like doctors or hospitals.

Communities with a lot of tourism also face unique risks because people visit from many different areas. It may be harder for public health officials to track or identify community spread in these areas because most visitors will be tested in their home community. This means that case counts may not show the true extent of disease spread in the area, and others living in or visiting the area will not have an accurate idea of what the risk may be.

Community members

What about the members of your community whom you may come into contact with while participating in necessary or social activities?

How might the community members who support the necessary and social activities you are considering answer the questions in the "Your Home" section?

Why it matters

Some interactions are necessary, such as grocery shopping, and others are choices, such as leisure and social activities.

Regardless, those whom you interact with are at risk for exposure to or illness from COVID-19. Each interaction increases the chance you could be exposed to COVID-19 or spread it to others. Consider how your actions and choices may impact others and how it may impact them if they are infected or become ill with COVID-19.

We know that many in Wisconsin face systemic barriers to accessing affordable health care, food, and other basic supplies, so it’s important that we all do our part to protect other members of our community.

Do the people supporting your necessary and social activities have access to cloth face coverings or masks, hand sanitizer, and other supplies needed to protect themselves? Are they using them?

Why it matters

To help stop the spread of COVID-19, it is important to wash or sanitize hands frequently and wear a cloth face covering in public spaces, especially where physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Some people cannot wear a cloth face covering safely. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the covering without help. In addition to medical considerations, previous traumatic experiences or fear of racial profiling or discrimination may also keep an individual from wearing a cloth face covering safely. Access to multiple, clean, or appropriate face coverings may also be a barrier.

How do your actions impact the lives of the people whom you frequently have contact with?

  • How do your actions impact the lives of those whom they are frequently in contact with?
  • How would all of these people answer the questions in the "Your Home" section?
Why it matters

If your child gets sick or is exposed to COVID-19, other children in their class or school may need to also stay home. Some families may not be able to take time off, work remotely to care for children, or be able to adequately participate in alternative or distance learning.

If you expose your coworker to COVID-19, who else are you putting at risk for potential exposure through them?

Consider how your actions and choices may impact others and how it may impact them if they are infected or become ill with COVID-19.

Best practices for safety, regardless of risk

It is always important to:

  • Stay home if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 to avoid infecting others and get tested if you haven’t already.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash or sanitize your hands.
  • If you are able to do so safely, wear a cloth face covering. Some people cannot wear a cloth face covering safely. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the covering without help. In addition to medical considerations, previous traumatic experiences or fear of racial profiling or discrimination may also keep an individual from wearing a cloth face covering safely. Access to multiple, clean, or appropriate face coverings may also be a barrier.
  • Avoid physical interaction or direct contact with, and maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance between yourself and others who don’t live with you.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

CDC tools

Last Revised: September 11, 2020