It’s been a little over a month since Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in place order, instructing Georgians to stay home. Since then, Kemp has begun to relax the restrictions and open up more businesses, malls, and parks. The state reopening, coupled with the warming weather, has created a false sense of safety for many people who have suddenly decided to rebel against social distancing guidelines.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen kickbacks, parties, picnics, and brunch dates all over my social media feed. More and more people in Georgia are starting to go outside, and some are even ditching their personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, etc). My personal grocery shopper, otherwise known as my mom, has noticed a rising amount of people who have stopped wearing masks at the grocery store. Unacast, a company which grades states on how well they are social distancing, gave Georgia an F due to our state’s less than 25% reduction in average mobility, less than 55% reduction in non-essential visits and less than 40% decrease in encounters density compared to the national baseline. I’ve even seen memes mocking the fact that Atlanta just decided the virus was cured and starting operating as if the pandemic was over!
One of the factors that has been causing more and more people to go outside is the warm weather. Many people have been rolling with the assumption that hotter weather will kill the virus. While certain studies may support this, for the most part, researchers say that hot weather is not a cure for the virus. The Washington Post reports, “any benefit from summer conditions would probably be lost if people mistakenly believe the virus can’t spread in warm weather and abandon efforts that limit infections, such as social distancing.” Even just looking at the coronavirus cases from humid countries such as Brazil and Australia will show you that the coronavirus has no preferences when it comes to infecting people.
On one hand, there are still a lot of risks associated with going outside at this time. In almost all cases, it’s better to err on the side of caution and stay inside. Especially, if you plan on going somewhere that is non-essential such as a party or a nail salon. However, mental health is important, and sometimes, staying inside 24/7 can cause some serious quarantine fatigue. If you absolutely have to go outside for your sanity, it’s important to know a few facts first.
One thing that is important to note is that if you do decide to go out, it is actually safer to go outdoors than to go indoors at places such as malls and restaurants that may be packed with people. This is due to the fact that germs are more likely to collect in a concentrated area. Linsey Marr, an engineering professor and aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, tells the New York Times, “Outdoors is so much better than indoors in almost all cases, there’s so much dilution that happens outdoors.”
However, that doesn’t make it completely safe to start planning picnic dates with friends. In the same NY Times article, Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, says there is a higher risk of infection when two people are sitting stationary next to each other for an extended period of time on a blanket rather than people walking past each other. Studies also show that even just talking to each other can launch “thousands of droplets that can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes”.
“The risk is lower outdoors, but it’s not zero,” she adds.
If you absolutely have to go outside, you should try to avoid big groups of people as much as possible. It’s important to remember that the coronavirus can be asymptomatic, meaning that even if the people around you don’t present traditional symptoms (coughing, fever, etc), they could still be infected.
It’s not recommended that you hang out with friends right now. But if you do decide to invite friends to come with you, try to only invite people you know, such as family and friends whose previous whereabouts you can easily screen. When planning your outing, it’s important to take the necessary precautions. If you can, try to plan it somewhere close to home such as a backyard in order to avoid crowds. If you decide to go to a public area such as a park instead, make sure to keep your picnic blanket at least six feet away from strangers. As much as you may trust your friends, don’t share any food, utensils, or beverages. Keep hand sanitizer nearby to keep your hands clean.
As far as going to restaurants and parties, the risk of catching the virus is even higher. When you’re going into a restaurant, you could be sitting at the table of someone who may have been infected with the virus. Studies show that the virus can live on surfaces for up to three days, making dining in public places an even bigger personal risk.
If you decide to plan a party or a kickback and invite loads of people, you can’t be sure that some of those people haven’t been exposed to the virus already. Even if that person tells you that they haven’t been around any coronavirus patients, because tests aren’t accessible to everyone, many people could be carrying the virus and not even know it. On average, one person who is infected will infect at least two other people. When at a party, you may share items such as bottles and cups, and if someone is infected, this could be a real danger.
Another possible worry in the future is the possibility of pools opening in the summer. The good news is that there is currently no evidence supporting that the virus can spread in water. However, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health advises that the biggest risk for summer water recreation is crowding in pool locker rooms, docks or beaches.
Yes. I'd say the crowds of people–hanging out at the pool for presumably hours at a time–are the biggest risk in these situations.
— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) May 11, 2020
“The most concentrated sources of virus in such an environment will be the people hanging out at the pool, not the pool itself,” she told the New York Times.
Although it may be hard to imagine, if pools do open this summer, they will probably be limited to only a few people at a time so that all patrons can remain six feet apart while swimming.
While there is some good news coming out that makes it seem like the pandemic is ending soon, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that a second wave of the virus is “inevitable.” In order to protect not only your health but the health of others, try to stay vigilant in social distancing, no matter how much social media may tempt you to go on that aesthetic picnic with friends or brunch date with bae.