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Staying Safe Outdoors this Summer: Understanding Coronavirus Risk

It’s become the most-talked-about choir practice of 2020: In early March, as the novel coronavirus quickly spread in Washington state, a local choir group met for their weekly rehearsal. Despite taking extra precautions, such as having hand sanitizer at the door and members not hugging or exchanging handshakes, nearly 50 of the 61 attendees contracted COVID-19, and two eventually died.

With many states reopening this summer, and the public wondering if it’s possible to safely resume everyday activities, researchers often cite this choir rehearsal as an example of a high-risk setting to avoid: a large group of people gathered in an enclosed space with poor ventilation, for an extended period of time. The chorus group practiced indoors for over two hours, and investigators concluded the virus likely spread through aerosols, tiny droplets that can be remain suspended in the air, infecting choir members as they were inhaled.

While there is no way to guarantee zero risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when going out into your community, experts say there are some general guidelines to follow. Read on to learn more about ways to minimize risk when deciding to go out.

Outdoors is safer

If you’re going to gather with family and friends, experts say doing so outdoors is safer than indoors. One study from Japan found that the risk of infection is nearly 19 times higher indoors compared to an open-aired environment. The study examined 61 clusters of COVID-19, which are defined as five or more cases reported from one place. The highest number of clusters were found in health care facilities, nursing homes, day care centers, and restaurants and bars. “We noted many COVID-19 clusters were associated with heavy breathing in close proximity, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gymnasiums,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The coronavirus is mainly believed to spread through being in close contact with an infected individual as they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze and release virus-filled droplets. In addition, experts also say that aerosols, the tiny clouds of viral particles that remain suspended in air, may also contribute to the spread of infection. The amount of virus that someone is exposed to, known as the viral load, is also important to consider. A person needs to be exposed to a few hundred to a few thousand viral particles to be infected. And by being outdoors, air currents and wind can scatter and dilute the virus particles, reducing the viral load and making it less likely for someone to be infected.

Because there is no way to ensure zero risk of infection while being outdoors, experts still urge the following precautions:

  • Stay six feet apart as much as possible
  • Wear a face covering when not around people within your household
  • Don’t share food
  • Limit the size of gatherings (interacting with more people raises your risk)
  • Limit the length of time of gathering (spending more time with people who are potentially infected increases risk of being infected)
  • Stay informed about the infections rates in your area

 

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