Think of COVID risk tolerance as a useful, shorthand way of categorizing a person’s comfort level with potential exposure to the virus. While there’s no widely standardized chart, numerous medical professionals like Cambridge psychologist Friedrich Götz and organizations like the APNA agree on a general “0 to 5” scale. Getting familiar with a common scale helps everyone in the workplace express their risk tolerance as effectively as possible.
People at Level 0 of COVID risk tolerance are the most strict when it comes to following safety protocols. Level 0 folks stay in their personal bubbles whenever possible and avoid contact with others as much as they can. They typically only venture outdoors if they know they can maintain 6-foot social distancing, rely heavily on services like contactless delivery and consistently disinfect outside items such as groceries or mail. Oftentimes, a Level 0 person’s concern stems from being immunocompromised themselves or sharing a space with someone who is.
Those at Level 1 of COVID risk tolerance strictly follow regular guidelines such as mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing and disinfecting. Compared to Level 0 people, they may be more flexible on leaving the house — though they will always wear a mask when out — and they may selectively, and safely partake in takeout food or grocery pickup.
Level 2 people generally do follow basic COVID safety measures when out of the house, but they may be more liable to participate in “essential” activities such as work or exercise outside the home. One key differentiator between Level 1 and Level 2 is that Level 2 people might add outdoor, socially distanced socializing to their comfort zone.
A person at Level 3 is a little more open on safety measures. This type of person leaves the house often and might socialize, usually outdoors, within a defined bubble. When outside of the house, they still follow the recommended precautions most of the time, but they might, for example, decide to not wear their mask when they’re on a solo bike ride.
The person at COVID risk tolerance Level 4 is pretty lax about precautions. They’ll wear a mask if a place of business requires it, and they’re generally happy to partake in activities like retail shopping, outdoor dining or even crowd-limited movie theaters if those activities are legally available in their area. They may not mind doing their work in an office, even if they’re not an essential worker.
At Level 5, a person’s safety precautions are borderline nonexistent to downright defiant. People in this group don’t quarantine, they socialize without the distance, engage in things like haircuts or pubs and likely don’t mind traveling. If they follow any COVID guidelines at all, it’s all very loose.
Assessment and Discussion
Remember, while this scale can help facilitate unified conversation in the workspace, every individual is unique and COVID risk tolerance can be a pretty personal subject. As physician Evelin Dacker, MD, says, the scale “is not inclusive of all situations and is just a guide. The intent here is to create a common vocabulary so we can communicate where we each stand.”
That common vocabulary is key, because it helps facilitate a more open discussion. With easy-to-understand, simple-to-express shared lingo in mind, the idea is to make employees feel more comfortable honestly identifying where they stand rather than keeping that crucial safety information to themselves out of shame, embarrassment or a desire to “fit in.” Remind your employees and yourself that personal risk tolerance is wholly subjective and that we’re all dealing with this for the very first time — understanding COVID risk tolerance should be about honestly identifying behavior, not about judging it.
Dan Ketchum has been an LA-based freelance writer for over a decade, with past work published by USA Today, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, among others. In the healthcare realm, he’s grateful to have collaborated with organizations such as LIVESTRONG, AZ Central Healthy Living, Eucerin, Jillian Michaels, Healthfully and Cetaphil.
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