Dog walks in the time of coronavirus
March 22, 2020 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Is it okay for my dog walker to keep working right now? I will preface this by saying that I absolutely intend to keep paying my dog walker regardless -- and she knows this. I live alone with my doofus coonhound in a condo in a large east coast city that has thus far been moderately hard hit by the coronavirus. My dog walker would really like to keep working right now. She enjoys the opportunity to be outside and spending time with animals. I have a high stress work from home job and really appreciate the help with managing dog care.

We have set up a system where she has her own leash that only she uses. When she comes to pick up the dog, she opens the door and he runs right to her for a walk and the same when she returns. We're never closer than 6 feet to each other and the only thing she touches is the door knob, which I am appropriately cleaning before and after she arrives. Neither of us are sick or have known exposure to someone who is. Is this sufficiently safe? I know there is some talk of transmission via animal fur, but what are the actual risks here?
posted by fancypants to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
We have the same arrangement with our dog walker and are carrying on.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:01 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Professional dog walker, here. With the exception of one client who's working exclusively from home now, I'm still working. I provide my own leashes, harnesses, treats and poop bags. Most clients turn the dog/s loose in the back yard when I arrive and I hook them up there and off we go.
Thank you, fancypants,for continuing to pay your trusty dog walker! You are a gem.
retiring this June after 15 years in the bizz
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:12 AM on March 22 [20 favorites]


Neither of us are sick or have known exposure to someone who is. Is this sufficiently safe?

NO.

Here's my doom and gloom scenario, as a critical worker who oversees hundreds of other critical workers:

Your dog walker DOES have the virus, because many people appear to be carrying it with no symptoms and with no known exposure.

As she heads over to your house, she touches a signpost, several railings and a few other doorknobs because she is walking other dogs. They are now all contaminated. Six of my critical care workers are delivering food and medicine (after they collect them from the hospital and store) and they also touch one of those railings or those other doorknobs.

Within the next two weeks, they infect roughly 20 people each. So 120 people now have the virus and let's say 1/2 of them become critically ill, except the hospital has closed because 40 workers all have the virus. And there's no childcare because those workers are also sick and they had to close childcare for essential employees, so now all essential employees are home with their kids.

Granted this is a doom and gloom scenario, but it is not impossible.

This is why people are being told TO STAY HOME and every single time people think, "Well, what I'm doing is safe," they are just making the entire situation worse for everyone else. There are SO MANY unknowns here but one thing we do know is that people are unintentionally giving this to other people and this chain can ONLY be broken by people self-quarantining for 2 weeks.

It's selfish thinking. Please walk your dog yourself.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:42 AM on March 22 [14 favorites]


It’s safe as long as everyone follows common sense precautions. Considering that you can have one person out there randomly sneezing on people versus ten it may in fact be a win.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:56 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


It’s safe as long as everyone follows common sense precautions. Considering that you can have one person out there randomly sneezing on people versus ten it may in fact be a win.

There is literally no evidence this is true.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:26 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Still taking all of this on board and trying to figure out the right thing to do here. Thank you all. For folks who are struggling with the same questions, one thing I have already done is tell my dog walker and the dog's regular daycare place that I want to donate some some walks or daycare time to their health care worker clients so their pets will be taken care of while they're taking care of all of us. Several of the larger dog walk services in my area are offering easy ways to do this online.
posted by fancypants at 9:03 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Even the most locked-down states are allowing people to go outside for exercise as long as they do it singly and maintain distance from other people (which I would normally say was impossible, but even in the busy NYC streets is manageable right now). I would ask my dog walker to agree to maintain that six-foot distance when walking dogs.
posted by praemunire at 10:37 AM on March 22


Our dog walker, who works for a small dog walking service, stopped doing walks as of Friday.
posted by potrzebie at 10:50 AM on March 22


It’s not zero risk (anything that involves walking around outside in a space where other people walk can’t be zero risk), but it seems pretty low risk. If you’re not in a particularly at-risk demographic it seems worth the trade off to me.

yisiwy’s scenario above is possible I guess, but it’s also possible that you have the virus but no symptoms, and if you walk your dog you’ll infect someone. If that were true, and if your precautions are sufficient (also no way to know that!) and your dogwalker not infected, it’s better for the dogwalker to keep walking the dog.

Keep in mind that social distancing doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective at flattening the curve - this Washington Post article has great simulation. If 75% of people avoid contact with others, it helps significantly. If 90% of people do, it helps significantly more than that.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:30 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


>It’s safe as long as everyone follows common sense precautions. Considering
>that you can have one person out there randomly sneezing on people versus ten
>it may in fact be a win.

There is literally no evidence this is true.


Nope. Pretty much just the opinion of the doctor I discussed it with last week.

If you're getting your information from a better source please be sure to share it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:09 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


yes I said yes I will Yes : genuine question here - if a dog walker has, say, 7 clients and we all cancel and choose to walk our dogs ourselves... aren't we all just 7 potentially infected human beings out and about touching things too? Isn't it better to have one person consolidating all of that? Again, this is a genuine question and if this is a totally incorrect line of thinking I'm happy to hear that.
posted by thebots at 12:31 PM on March 22


via the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health ongoing coronavirus news updates:

March 19: This Is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus (The Atlantic)
Maintaining social distancing will buy the U.S. time to beat COVID-19—time to ramp up testing and to strengthen the medical infrastructure—wrote Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), and co-author Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine, in The Atlantic. “We can make things better; it’s not too late. But we have to be willing to act,” they wrote.
March 19: You Can Help Break the Chain of Transmission (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and epidemiologist Helen Jenkins of Boston University, who are married, used tree diagrams to explain how limiting contacts with others can help prevent many coronavirus infections. They said that simple interventions, such as working from home, can have an exponential effect and can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of disease.
March 19: How to Keep Your Distance (New York Times)
This article—which outlines the differences between concepts like “social distancing,” “self-monitoring,” and “self-quarantine”—quoted Asaf Bitton, executive director of AriadneLabs, who recently wrote a piece called “Social Distancing: This Is Not a Snow Day.” Bitton said he wrote the article after schools and businesses had shut down to slow the spread of coronavirus—and he looked out of his office window to see a park full of people. “I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ Why did we close the schools if we’re going to shift social contact from the schools to the playground?” he said. In his article, he stressed the importance of “making daily choices to stay away from each other as much as possible.”
March 18: Op-ed: We know enough now to act decisively against Covid-19. Social distancing is a good place to start (STAT)
In spite of a lack of good data on many aspects of the COVID-19 epidemic, it’s essential to keep up with social distancing, because “waiting and hoping for a miracle as health systems are overrun … is not an option,” wrote Marc Lipsitch. Lipsitch’s op-ed came in response to a recent op-ed by another epidemiologist that seemed to suggest that, until data are more certain, taking drastic actions might not be the wisest course of action to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Lipsitch contended, however, that “we know enough to act; indeed, there is an imperative to act strongly and swiftly.”
posted by katra at 2:20 PM on March 22


this chain can ONLY be broken by people self-quarantining for 2 weeks.

Two weeks from when, though?

The two week rule is based on the potential time to develop symptoms following exposure (caveat that it appears viral shedding may occur even after two weeks.) That's why a 2 week self-quarantine is recommended for people who are (1) close contacts of people with a positive diagnosis; (2) healthcare workers who received an inoculum from a presumptive or confirmed positive case; (3) people who have traveled to an area with widespread community transmission and have returned to an area of non-community transmission. If a person develops symptoms while quarantined, they need to ramp up to isolation. (And ideally get tested, but that's a struggle unless you are a celebrity.)

The two week rule does not apply to asymptomatic carriers (Coronavirus Marys) or situations where there is already widespread community transmission (what yes I said yes I will Yes outlines), because there is no clear exposure date from which to start counting your two weeks. Do you count 2 weeks from every time you leave your house?

If you are in an area where there is widespread community transmission, there's no reason to think that your dog walker is any higher likelihood of being an asymptomatic carrier than you. Assuming you have left the house in the last month, you, too, have touched those same contaminated railings, signposts, etc. You've pushed a grocery cart. You got on a city bus. Etc etc etc. The whole reason for lockdowns in areas with widespread community transmission is that it's essentially a 2-week quarantine for the entire city, with the goal of "breaking the chain." Unfortunately, as the situation in Wuhan and now Italy show, you have to lock down for waaaay more than 2 weeks to actually stop the spread.

If you are not in an area with (known) community transmission, your dog walker is probably higher risk than you because they are coming into contact with more surfaces and people than someone who is WFH ... but that risk is further mitigated by all the distancing maneuvers you are doing. (And add hand-washing to that list!)

Social distancing is NOT the same as self-quarantine is not the same as isolation. The New York Times has a nice overview of what each of the terms mean. The relative safety/risk of having your dog walker is going to be a hyperlocal decision, and this is not medical advice. (Except the part about washing your hands, because that is sound medical advice regardless of situation.)
posted by basalganglia at 3:28 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


yes I said yes I will Yes : genuine question here - if a dog walker has, say, 7 clients and we all cancel and choose to walk our dogs ourselves

The most simple answer is this: you do not know what the dog walker has touched, how close they've stood to someone infected, how many homes they visited with infected people. They can tell you they're fine and safe but in their doggie walking travels, they may have had contact with god knows how many infected people, then they go from house to house, infecting people, or they touch your dog's collar or your doorknob, etc.

Conversely, you do know if you're handwashing and sanitizing surfaces and not touching anything at all outside. This is a thing you know, whereas you cannot ever say with certainty that your dog walker is being safe.

So you go outside, you are safe because you know you're safe. You have literally no idea how safe your dogwalker and the homes they visit are.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:37 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Basalganglia, that New York Times story was really helpful and interesting, thanks! It's literally my job to track the coronavirus news, but I must have missed that one. If it helps for other folks trying to think through this, I am in DC.
posted by fancypants at 4:05 PM on March 22



Coronavirus cases spike in Washington region as testing capacity ramps up
(WaPo)

Virus rebels from France to Florida flout lockdown practices (AP)
Their defiance of lockdown mandates and scientific advice to fight the coronavirus pandemic has prompted crackdowns by authorities on people trying to escape cabin fever brought on by virus restrictions. [...] “Some consider they’re little heroes when they break the rules,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said. “Well, no. You’re an imbecile, and especially a threat to yourself.”
Coronavirus reality check: 7 myths about social distancing, busted (Marc Lipsitch and Joseph Allen, USA Today)
Remember, this is not about personal risk, which might be relatively low in small social gatherings. This is about population risk. Because of the lack of testing availability to date, we don’t know who has coronavirus. For now, we assume we all might, and we maintain social distancing and avoid indoor gatherings large and small so we are not the spark that generates another outbreak fire.
posted by katra at 5:17 PM on March 22


Isn't it better to have one person consolidating all of that?
That one dog-walker would be a common contact between all 7 of you, and could spread it between you. 7 people walking their dogs individually can avoid contact with other people.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:05 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Basalganglia, that New York Times story was really helpful and interesting, thanks! It's literally my job to track the coronavirus news, but I must have missed that one. If it helps for other folks trying to think through this, I am in DC.

I also linked to that same article in my first comment, but I added additional sources to try to emphasize the point that your dog-walker's wish to spend time having contact with multiple pet owners and your wish to have non-emergency help during an unprecedented public health disaster does not comport with the urgent need for everyone to take drastic protective action. This is another perspective that may be helpful to consider:

Hold the line (Jonathan Smith, Medium, Mar. 20, 2020)
Infectious disease epidemiologist focusing the dynamics of disease transmission. PhD en route at Emory, Lecturer at Yale, and contracted at the CDC.
In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.
There is more information in all of the links I've added in my comments here, including this one, and I encourage you to actually review them.
posted by katra at 9:14 PM on March 22


if your dogwalker is self-employed and not working through a company, i think a good way to support her would to be to book (and pay) for services in advance. you don't want to hve someone going to work because they have no other options, you know?
posted by megan_magnolia at 5:14 PM on March 23


How to pet dogs during the coronavirus pandemic (WaPo, Mar. 18, 2020)
A separate question is whether a dog’s fur or skin could be contaminated by the virus if, for example, its infected owner sneezed on it. After all, a study published Tuesday reported that the virus can live under laboratory conditions for three days on plastic and steel and one day on cardboard. Might it also reside happily on the lush coat of a St. Bernard? Given the unknowns about the disease, experts recommend that people infected with the coronavirus stay away from pets, as they should from people. So the most conservative approach would be to refrain from touching others’ dogs, because its owner could be asymptomatic."
posted by katra at 6:15 PM on March 23


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