How Safe Are Outdoor Gatherings?

How Safe Are Outdoor Gatherings?

Originally published on NYT – Health on 2020 07 06 by Tara Parker-Pope

“Outdoors is what will save us,” Dr. Marcus said. “Why can’t the message be: ‘We understand you want to get together with friends. There are ways to do this safely.’ We’re just telling them not to gather. That doesn’t recognize basic human behavior and basic human needs.”

A review of 7,000 cases in China documented only a single instance of outdoor transmission — but it apparently occurred during a long conversation between two friends. One of them had just returned from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

If you attend a social event and find yourself in close conversation with someone from outside your household, even outdoors, wear a mask. Keep music levels low so people don’t have to shout. (Loud speaking expels more droplets than a quiet voice.) Don’t share food or serving utensils.

“I think people hear that it’s outdoors and think everything is fine,” said Linsey Marr, an engineering professor and aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “But it should be outdoors with distancing. If you have an outdoor gathering with a lot of people talking, you stand close. It’s loud, so you talk louder.”

Limiting the number of partygoers not only lowers your risk of running into someone who has the virus, but small numbers also make it easier to keep track of just a few people and maintain physical distance, said Dr. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Bitton notes that when a group gets larger, even outdoors, it can affect our overall spatial awareness, including proprioception — which is knowing where our body is in space without relying on visual cues. Add in alcohol, and our ability to keep our distance falls short.

“We also know that alcohol or other drugs and medications can significantly alter all senses, with a particularly large effect on proprioception,” Dr. Bitton said.

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