Category: Advice

Safe Entertaining Options

Entertaining has changed quite a bit in 2020. Government-issued restrictions dictated how many people you could invite into your home or even your backyard. Large family gatherings, such as weddings or birthday parties, were put on hold. Many people are still cautious about crowds and maintaining their distance, even from close friends and family and even as safety protocols have been loosened.

Those who are eagerly awaiting hosting dinner parties or backyard gatherings can take various steps to ensure the health and safety of their guests. These guidelines can help make entertaining that much safer.

Keep the guest list small

While you may want to invite as many people as possible, keeping the guest list small can help you keep better track of contact tracing should anyone develop symptoms or feel ill. It also limits the number of people with whom you come in contact. If you plan on entertaining routinely, stick to the same guest list over and over rather than inviting new people.

Maintain social distancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to urge people to remain at least six feet apart from one another. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets also can be inhaled into the lungs. The CDC and other health organizations maintain that keeping at least a six feet from others reduces the likelihood that respiratory droplets will land on another person. More distance is always better. Leave room between seats around the dining table, and discourage crowding around entertaining areas.

Wear masks

Masks can be worn when maintaining distance is not possible. Although masks may not always be comfortable or fashionable, there are ways to incorporate them into the theme of your gathering. Ask everyone to wear a specific color or style of mask. Purchase extra masks for guests if you suspect someone may not own one.

Offer individual portions

Self-service buffets and drink bars may be risky. Instead, you can don proper safety gear and serve food to your guests to minimize the amount of people touching food or beverages. Have individual drinks Canned soft drinks, beers or small bottles of wine may also help limit the spread of the virus by providing individually portioned beverages rather than having people pour or ladle drinks out of communal offerings.

Provide hand-cleaning options

Encourage guests to wash their hands frequently and make sure there’s plenty of soap in the bathroom. Individual paper towels, while not as eco-friendly as reusable cloth towels, also can improve bathroom hygiene. Keep containers of hand sanitizer in high-traffic spots around the entertaining area as well.

Check for symptoms

No one wants to play bouncer at their own dinner party, but checking to make sure guests are well or experiencing symptoms can minimize risk. The CDC urges anyone who is feeling unwell to avoid gatherings.

Hosting a gathering in the era of COVID-19 can be challenging. However, it’s possible to do so safely if hosts and their guests adhere to safety precautions set forth by local governments and the CDC.

How to Prepare for a Unique Election Day

Like many days that came before it in 2020, Election Day figures to be unique this year. The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of life as people know it, and it figures to change how they vote this fall as well.

The right to vote and participate in a representative government should never be taken for granted. Many people across the globe have no such right, so citizens of the United States should be grateful they can vote and express that gratitude by doing their part and voting each year on Election Day.

State and local governments may be approaching Election Day differently as they try to juggle their responsibilities to make voting accessible to all while simultaneously keeping voters safe during the pandemic. Voters can do their part by taking the following steps prior to Election Day, which is November 3, 2020.

• Confirm you are registered to vote. Voter registration deadlines differ by state. According to Vote.org, some states, including Colorado and Connecticut, allow eligible voters to register on Election Day and cast their ballots that very same day. But many states, such as Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana, require voters to be registered 30 days prior to Election Day. A list of state-by-state voter registration requirements can be found at www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/.

• Learn the mail-in ballot policy in your state. Many voters may not vote via mail-in ballots on a typical Election Day, but 2020 is not a typical year. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. notes that all states offer some form of mail-in ballots. Many states are asking voters to vote via mail-in ballots in 2020 in an effort to reduce voters’ risk of getting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. Confirm the mail-in ballot policy and procedure in your state as early as possible to make sure your vote is counted.

• Return your completed mail-in ballot as soon as possible. Many states are urging voters who plan to vote using mail-in ballots to return their ballots as early as possible. In a mailer sent to all registered voters, the Superintendent of Elections and the Board of Elections in New Jersey noted it is critical that voters return their mail-in ballots early in the upcoming election season. Mail-in ballots can be returned via the United States Postal Service (all ballots include postage paid return envelopes), and voters also may be able to return their ballots in person at their designated polling locations or by placing the ballots in secure ballot drop boxes. Confirm your mail-in ballot return options with your local County Clerk of Elections well before Election Day.

Election Day 2020 will be unique. Voters should not hesitate to take all necessary steps in advance of November 3 to ensure their votes are counted this fall.

How to Effectively and Safely Sanitize a Car

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people live. One readily felt effect was spending more time at home. Vehicles sat idle in driveways and even some automotive insurance providers reduced rates because people were driving much less. Even with stay-at-home measures in place, people still need to leave their homes to stock up on essentials, such as food or medicine. In other cases, people may have been essential workers who drive for a living, including delivery drivers or health care personnel who were incapable of working from home.

Any time a person goes out in public, he or she runs the risk of contracting viruses. Bacteria and germs may reside on various surfaces, including those inside vehicles. People want to protect themselves and now are more aware of the importance of frequently cleaning and sanitizing their cars. Keeping a vehicle safe to drive without affecting its upholstery or electronic components is paramount. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes a distinction between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but can lower their numbers. Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. The following are some ways to deeply clean and sanitize a car.

• Wash hands. First and foremost, it is crucial to wash your hands before and after using the car. This can reduce the likelihood of growing ill because of transferred viruses or bacteria.

• Use rubbing alcohol. Solutions that contain 70 percent alcohol are effective against many viruses and bacteria, including coronaviruses, says the CDC. Furthermore, Jeff Stout, Executive Director of Global Innovation at Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, says that, for the most part, nearly every interior surface of a vehicle can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. Plastic to painted chrome to imitation leather have been tested to ensure they don’t degrade when exposed to pure isopropyl alcohol.

• Avoid bleach or hydrogen peroxide. While bleach and peroxide are very effective cleaners and sanitizers, they are likely to damage a car’s upholstery, according to Consumer Reports.

• Use soap and water: Experts say that vigorous washing with a soap-and-water solution can be effective against many contaminants because it breaks down the protective envelope that surrounds coronaviruses and other germs to disarm them. Friction also can help to break down germ cells during cleaning. “You want to do the best with what you have, so even soap and water can chip away at the risk,” says Stephen Thomas, M.D., Chief of Infectious Diseases and Director of Global Health at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.

• Address frequently touched surfaces. Pay attention to the steering wheel, door handles, buttons, touchscreen displays, shift lever, and more when sanitizing. Each of these items can harbor germs.

Deep-cleaning a vehicle has become a necessity since COVID-19 emerged. Frequently cleaning and sanitizing can help make vehicles safer to operate.

Recommended Tech for Students

Shopping for school supplies once entailed stocking up on pens, pads and notebooks. Students today still buy many of the same items, though they also now stock up on electronics. Technology and education now go hand-in-hand. For students to find success both in and out of the classroom, the right tech can make all the difference.

• High-speed internet: Connectivity is key in a digitally driven world. Students need access to the internet for homework, lectures, email, entertainment, and much more. The faster your internet speed the better. According to the resource HighSpeedInternet.com, streaming videos on a single device or web browsing requires between five and 40 Mbps. Downloading large files or using multiple devices simultaneously requires high speeds. When accessing the internet via smartphones, make sure your plan has unlimited data or provides enough data to ensure interruptions do not occur.

• Laptop or notebook computer: Laptops and notebook devices are similar in that both offer many types of software preloaded that a student will need. The devices seem interchangeable, but there are some differences. Laptops are generally larger than sleek, light notebooks. Notebooks are sized to fit easily into backpacks. Notebooks tend to have minimal features, including less RAM capacity and slower speeds, helping to keep their costs down. Some notebooks may have very small amounts of hard drive storage space, requiring users to purchase external storage devices.

• Headphones: Most schools now require students to have their own dedicated pair of earbuds or over-the-ear headphones so that work conducted on a computer does not disturb others also working on their own devices. Headphones also can make it easier to hear and comprehend videos and other digital lessons while doing homework.

• Chargers/battery packs: Devices must maintain power to help kids learn. Students can benefit from having a backup charger or battery pack to maintain functionality on their devices. • Storage and charging base: Keeping electronics neat and accessible for the family may mean rethinking countertop or other storage spaces. Charging stations hold multiple devices and allow them to charge simultaneously.

• Touchscreen pen: Many notebook and laptop computers have touchscreens that respond to pens/styluses and make drawing or writing on the screen more detailed.

• Printer/scanner: While many schools have adopted paperless formats, there may come a time when printing an assignment or report is necessary. A quality ink-jet printer can fit the bill. A scanner to scan photos or documents also makes it easier to complete assignments.

The above are just some of the many gadgets that can assist students with their studies.

The Benefits of a New Approach to Learning for Students

The validity of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” was on full display during the COVID-19 outbreak. People quickly had to learn to adapt to a new way of life, including an educational system that was transformed dramatically by social distancing guidelines.

More than 76 million students are enrolled in United States schools, per the latest Census Bureau information. In 2018, 2.12 million students were in Canadian postsecondary institutions alone. In a matter of days, millions of students who once attended classes in-person were forced to transition to virtual learning instruction. The process showed just how flexible learning systems can be, and how virtual instruction may become more than an emergency protocol in the future. Schools utilized systems like Google Classroom, Canvas and virtual meeting apps to connect and learn. While in-class lessons provide the socialization and one-on-one interaction that can be vital for students’ academic success, there are many different reasons why virtual instruction can be a key component of learning models as well. When virtual learning is used in conjunction with traditional teaching, students may have a more well-rounded experience. Here are some potential benefits that may unfold as more data is collected:

• Pace: Virtual learning affords students the chance to work on lessons at a pace that fits their individual needs. Students can go back and re-read or re-work problems until they’re satisfied they have learned their lesson. Lessons can be slowed down or sped up depending on proficiency, creating a customized educational experience.

• No more weather days. Many school districts include snow or extreme weather days into their calendars, adding on extra days at the end of school year to meet the specified number of educational days. Remote learning can take over in these times and keep school districts from having to pad calendars.

• Convenience: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to provide students the best chance to get the amount of sleep they need. Still, most adolescents currently start school before 8:30 a.m. Remote learning enables students to complete their assignments when it works best for them. This may help them get more sleep, too.

• Apps: Learning apps are a new wave of educational tools that have helped buoy virtual instruction. Primary school students or those with individual education plans may benefit the most from reinforced app skills that match their learning pace in fun ways.

Virtual home instruction may become a large part of the educational landscape even after it’s no longer a social distancing necessity.

Keep Devices in Top Shape and Running Well

The need for reliable technology has never been more apparent. When the world hit the proverbial pause button in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, technology was crucial to keeping people connected to the world around them, helping people maintain some semblance of normalcy as it pertained to work and education.

Students and families who have invested in various electronics to help keep their household running should understand that maintenance is required to keep these devices running effectively. These tips can help keep gadgets in tip-top shape:

• Protect devices from extreme temperatures. Electronic devices are designed to operate under an array of conditions, but pushing those conditions can result in damage. Most devices are fine between temperatures of 32 F and 90 F. But don’t leave electronics in the car, in a sunny window or outdoors.

• Clean devices regularly. Refer to the user’s manual for the proper ways to clean the devices you rely on each day. Some may require a specific cleaner or a particular fabric to help ensure the device isn’t scratched or damaged. Spray cleaners on a cloth and then wipe off devices, rather than spraying cleaners directly on electronics. Try a can of compressed air to remove dust from crevices or vents.

• Invest in a surge protector. While surge protector power strips multiply the number of available outlets, they also serve a more important purpose. These devices will cut off power to plugged-in electronics if there is a power surge, helping to prevent damage.

• Don’t overcharge. It’s essential to have gadgets charged and ready to go, but overcharging can reduce battery life. Do not leave devices charging overnight. Battery University ™, a free educational website offering battery information, says that nickel- and lithium-based batteries should be stored with a 40 percent state-of-charge. This level minimizes age-related capacity loss and keeps the battery in good condition.

• Use protective cases. Cases can prevent damage if devices are dropped and also may safeguard against scratched screens. Cases and covers also minimize dust and dirt on devices.

• Keep software up-to-date. Security issues may arise when software is not updated, and programs may not run effectively or be compatible with others. Along the same vein, routinely clean out unused files to free up space, and clear cookies and browser histories to maintain speed and efficiency.

Routine maintenance can keep electronics working properly when they’re needed the most.

Tips for Effective Remote Learning

An increased reliance on virtual home instruction has many students rethinking their organizational strategies and daily school schedules. Learning at home is different from being in a traditional classroom environment, but with some effective strategies, students can persevere without missing a beat.

Stick to a schedule

Many students are successful because they follow a schedule. The Center for Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning says that routines and schedules are important because they influence a child’s emotional and cognitive development. Children feel secure with schedules, which may help them recognize what’s expected of them. When learning at home, students should strive to maintain as consistent a schedule as possible, including bedtimes, wake times, hours devoted to learning, and time to get outside or engage in downtime activities.

Connect live if possible

There are many free tools and resources available that enable teachers to provide live video lessons or to record them so students can watch them later. Similarly, social networking apps and virtual meeting programs enable students to connect digitally. This can be helpful for collaborative learning assignments or just to see a familiar face.

Stick to tools that work

Once students find apps or systems that work, they should stick with them, offers Khan Academy, an educational tutoring resource. There are many factors outside of one’s control during virtual instruction, but maintaining consistency with tools and schedules is one way to feel more confident and secure.

Check student accounts frequently

Just like students, teachers may be learning as they go in regard to remote learning strategies. Students should be sure to check school email accounts or other places where teachers post assignments a few times per day so that they stay on top of all assignments and are aware of due dates.

Reach out to instructors

Allegheny College suggests students contact their teachers if they are unsure of how to participate in remote learning environments. Ask questions about assignments, get clarification on key topics and be sure to tune into any remote chats or virtual “office hours.”

Stay in touch with guidance, if needed

Remote learning is a new experience for many students, and there may be certain struggles or road blocks. It can be easy to grow frustrated with equipment failures or lack of in-person interaction. Schools employ qualified therapists and guidance counselors who are just a click, call or email away if issues need to be talked through. Students should utilize all resources made available to them.

Virtual home instruction can be made even easier with some extra assistance and guidance.

Home Office Must-Haves

Remote work has been around for many years, though it certainly picked up steam in 2020. In an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in March 2020 government officials implemented stay-at-home measures that mandated many working professionals to begin working from home. That transition occurred seemingly overnight, forcing men and women to find somewhere in their homes to work. As the dust settled and working professionals grew accustomed to working from home, many recognized the need to have an office in their homes. Various factors can make home offices more conducive to getting work done, and the following are some home office must-haves that can help people be more productive while working from home.

Lighting

Lighting is important in a home office. It’s easy to overlook natural light, especially for workers who previously worked in offices that did not have windows. But natural light can help save on energy costs and boost mood. In fact, natural light is a valued commodity for people used to working in office settings. A 2018 survey of more than 1,600 workers conducted by the human resources advisory firm Future Workplace found that access to natural light and views of the outdoors were the most sought after attribute of a workplace environment. In addition, 47 percent of workers surveyed admitted they felt tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office. When designing their home offices, homeowners should keep this in mind and choose areas of their homes that get ample natural light during a typical workday. Additional lighting also will be necessary. Recessed lighting can give an office a sleek look, and lights that can dim can allow workers to adjust their lighting based on how much they need at any given point in the workday.

Quiet

Professionals forced to work at home when social distancing measures were implemented may not have had much quiet, especially for those with young children whose schools were closed. But when designing a home office, homeowners have the chance to make their offices more conducive to concentration. Soundproofing walls may not be necessary, but look for areas of the home that don’t get much foot traffic. Kitchens are very popular rooms in many homes, so try to locate your home office away from the kitchen. A spare bedroom upstairs may make for the most ideal home office setting if the home does not have a traditional den. Spare bedrooms come with doors, which can instantly create a sense of quiet when closed. A converted garage also can make for a useful home office, but make sure the room already has cooling and heating and, ideally, windows.

Electrical Outlets

Recently built homes tend to be equipped with enough outlets to accommodate our increasingly connected lifestyles. But older homes may need some electrical updates before they can capably accommodate home offices. When updating your electrical, replace existing outlets and fixtures with energy-efficient LED fixtures, which save money and benefit the environment. Before updating the electrical, decide on how you want the office to be laid out so you can have outlets installed where your computer, devices and other items, like a printer and television, will be. This makes it easy to hide cords and give the office a clean, professional look.

Home office capabilities became a big priority in 2020. Designing such spaces can be fun and easy.

Take-Out Tips When Dining at Home

Although takeout has long been a convenience enjoyed by people around the world, in recent months takeout became a key way for many restaurants to stay afloat when the novel coronavirus COVID-19 forced many to close their facilities to customers. Restaurants have been allowed to remain open, though they have been forced to change their business models. In a matter of weeks, establishments that were not accustomed to offering takeout quickly reimagined their operations to offer curbside pickup or delivery options.

In turn, many communities promoted movements to help keep restaurants afloat, with some encouraging residents to participate in Takeout Thursdays to patronize struggling bars, restaurants and delis. Takeout has always provided a respite from cooking meals at home, but it seems especially welcomed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now more than ever, individuals and families could use a break from cooking three meals per day. When opting for takeout, consider these tasty tips:

• Support small businesses. Independent restaurants could have a tougher time bouncing back from reduced sales and income than large restaurant chains. When seeking out food- and beverage-related businesses, lean heavily on mom-and-pop restaurants, many of which are pillars in their communities. These are the businesses whose owners may have children in your local schools or those who sponsor local sports leagues.

• Investigate food safety. Inquire about the safety measures restaurants are taking to ensure food safety. Most restaurants and delivery services are enacting even more safety measures than are required by law. Keep in mind, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, “There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” Simple hand washing after touching food packaging and your food or face may be sufficient.

• Learn new protocol. Ask the business what their requirements are for ordering food. Some restaurants will bring the order directly to your car through curbside pickup. Others may enable you to enter the establishment if you are wearing a mask. Delivery only might be the policy at another establishment. Follow all rules, as they have been implemented to keep you and the business employees safe.

• Pay by credit card. When placing an order for takeout or curbside pickup, pay by credit card online or over the phone if that is an option. This limits how much you and restaurant employees have to handle cards or cash.

• Avoid direct handoffs. Ask the counter server or delivery person to put down your order and step away before you grab it. This is an extra step to combat the spread of the virus.

Even as stay-at-home restrictions are being relaxed, takeout figures to remain popular. Certain tips can keep everyone well fed and safe and help bars and restaurants stay afloat.

Safely Shop for Groceries While Social Distancing

As recently as a few months ago, grocery shopping was an uneventful chore that few people were likely to remember after returning home. But in the wake of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, grocery shopping changed in ways that few people will ever forget.

Social distancing guidelines and recommendations urged consumers to stay in their homes as much as possible, but grocery shopping requires people to spend time outside their homes. A few simple strategies can help shoppers stay safe as they shop for groceries.

• Wear a mask. Safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are evolving as scientists learn more about COVID-19. One of the more significant changes the CDC made to its initial guidelines was to recommend people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. As communities begin to reopen, certain restrictions may be relaxed, but the CDC continues to advise people to wear masks while out in public, including when shopping for groceries. The CDC notes that wearing masks may slow the spread of the virus by preventing people who have it but are asymptomatic from transmitting it to others.

• Shop during off-peak hours. Traditionally “off-peak” hours may no longer apply at many grocery stores, the majority of which have changed their store hours so staff can thoroughly clean and disinfect stores each night. But even if stores are not open as late as they used to be, there’s still times of day when fewer customers will likely be in the store. Early mornings may be designated for shoppers in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. However, many stores remain less crowded in the mornings than they are during the rest of the day. Avoid shopping on weekends if you want to steer clear of crowds, as these are the only times when people who are still working can find time to shop. Weekday mornings or late afternoons may be ideal times to shop for shoppers who want to avoid crowds.

• Wash hands before and after going to the store. The CDC continues to tout the importance of washing hands as a means to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Scientists are still unsure about how easily the virus can spread from contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, but washing hands before and after shopping is a simple safety measure that prevents the spread of germs and potentially harmful viruses like COVID-19.

• Avoid touching your face. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology note that respiratory infections can be caused by an assortment of bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing germs. Scientists believe COVID-19 is spread through the respiratory droplets of infected persons. These droplets are essentially invisible, but when people come into contact with them and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, viruses can spread. So people should avoid touching their face with potentially dirty hands.

Grocery shopping has changed as the world reacts to the COVID-19 virus. As communities begin to reopen, it’s important that people remain diligent when shopping for groceries, taking every step necessary to protect themselves and others from contracting this potentially deadly virus.