May 22, 2020: Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial start of summer, when families gather to light up their grills or take the first road trip to the beach for a cool but refreshing dip in between waves. This year, of course, people are not sure what to do amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, the CDC made a subtle change to its COVID-19 guideline, which emphasizes that the greatest risk comes from the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through person-to-person transmission. Contact with surfaces plays a minor role, according to the CDC's "How COVID-19 Spreads" page.
"It is possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes," the CDC writes. "This is not believed to be the main form of spread of the virus, but we are still learning more about this virus."
To reduce the chance of infection this weekend, people should focus on avoiding that person-to-person contact. CDC and other health organizations still recommend physical distance of at least 6 feet between people, as well as face masks and frequent hand washing.
Still, that leaves a lot of questions about the typical Memorial Day fare, like cookouts and pools. What is the best advice? Public health experts say plans should depend on a variety of factors: regional risk, personal risk, and common sense. They shared their thoughts on specific activities, such as backyard barbecues, beaches, and travel.
First, it is important to look at the number of COVID-19 cases in your state and local community. In many states, for example, the number of new cases remains high. Getting together with others could put you at risk for the spread of infections and harm high-risk friends or family, such as people over the age of 65 or who have underlying medical conditions that affect the lungs, heart, and liver. This could include people with asthma, diabetes, and diseases related to the immune system.
"In Oregon, where I am, there is great variation in cases between counties, where some are high-risk and others low-risk," said Chunhuei Chi, director of the Oregon State University Center for Global Health.
The best plan is to keep the "quarantine crew" or "household unit" she has been with during orders to stay home, she said. If you stay with your shelter group on-site during a weekend cookout, for example, you are at no additional risk. If you interact with other people outside your circle, that could create a new risk, so put on those masks and practice physical distance in the yard.
"Just as Americans had to adapt and accept seat belts in the early 1970s, think of face masks that do the same job," said Chi. "Masks are the new seat belts."
Then consider your own risk of transmitting or receiving the coronavirus, and whether any weekend plans could harm you or others. In general, minimizing social contacts will reduce the chance that you may receive the virus or pass it on to others. Even if you don't experience the symptoms yourself, you could still spread the virus and spread it to others. That is why large social events, such as sports, concerts, and religious ceremonies, have been closed for two months. As social media expands, the potential for virus transmission increases again.
"When we start to figure out what we can do to get us back to normal, limit your contacts," said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Allen has published articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today about road trips, planes, and masks during the pandemic.
Personal risk also depends on tolerance to personal risk, Allen emphasized. Some people will feel more hesitant and concerned about joining others at an event, and it is important to recognize and understand people's personal preferences, he said. Rather than arguing or making fun of others, this "gradual reopening" will require a certain degree of cooperation, communication, and trust.
"Individual risk includes what you consider acceptable or not," Allen said. "Some people may feel less comfortable with nonessential interactions."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, says Americans must "go out" for Memorial Day. "Get out, wear a mask, walk 6 feet away from anyone for physical distance, and get out." #CNNTownHallhttps: //t.co/VmYxwv4ftTpic.twitter.com/0iuWlZb4qD – CNN (@CNN) May 22, 2020
This summer will certainly not be like most summers. To safely start Memorial Day weekend, everyone should use common sense when making plans. Take it easy. Keep it small. Continue to use safe COVID-19 practices, such as maintaining physical distance, wearing masks, and frequent hand washing.
"If you want to have a small meeting over the weekend, think of ways to do it safely," said Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University. "That doesn't mean throwing a party, attending another party, cutting your hair, and going to the supermarket three times for supplies."
The more events and activities you do, the more people you will meet and the more likely you are to expose yourself to the virus, or even expose others. Gathering outside is a great idea, especially since ventilation is better than indoors, and fresh air can dilute the virus. Meet friends from a distance and stay apart in the backyard. Keep groups of less than 10 people, which makes sense for people who have limited outdoor areas.
"People are frustrated at not seeing friends and family, and it's important to start venturing a little bit," he said. "But try to keep it contained and follow security protocols."
Hangouts in the backyard
BBQs and cookouts seem like a great idea this weekend, especially if everyone can keep their distance and handle their own items. One person must prepare food and everyone must serve themselves. Use tongs or cutlery instead of reaching into a bag of chips, for example. Everyone should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces, Sexton said.
"Have individual packages or lots of things," he said. "You definitely don't want multiple people to get their hands on something."
Camping and hiking
The National Park Service announced plans to reopen some areas, and many local and regional camps are also reopening. Being outdoors is a great idea, and open space also reduces the risk of transmission. Hiking is considered "lower risk" depending on where you choose to go and how many people there are. Take your mask with you and put it on if you're passing people, especially on a narrow road, Sexton said.
For camping, the same rules apply if you share a facility or bathroom. Although having separate areas is ideal, washing your hands is the most important protection, he said. If you are in a staffed camp, ask them about cleaning and disinfection procedures.
Of course, the biggest concern with parks and camps is avoiding crowds. Parks may need to limit the number of people who can enter, and responsibility for physical distance will rest with those in the parks.
"This will require a lot of social trust. We need to act responsibly and follow the rules, "said Allen. “We all have to do our part in this. It is our only way to get through this. "
Like parks, beaches offer great possibilities for fresh air and open spaces, but they also face the problem of overcrowding. Local officials should limit the numbers, if possible, by reducing available parking spaces and monitoring entrances and exits. This could mean that people can't access their favorite places as easily as before, Allen said, and some may be rejected entirely, so be prepared for that. Some islands may choose not to reopen yet because the influx of tourists could overwhelm their hospitals or small restaurants where physical distance is not possible, Sexton said, so check your destination before you go.
The additional difficulty with beaches is that although it can create distance between groups in the sand, bathers often cross paths to walk on the beach. Generally, you can remove your mask if you're sitting on the sand with your own group, but if you walk on the beach or talk to others, put it back on, Allen said.
"The challenge for beaches is that we have never had to manage flow in this way," he said. "We may need to create lanes for people to walk and find places, and they need to stay in the groups they traveled with to do so safely."
Some large community pools have canceled their entire 2020 season, so check availability before you go. Neighborhood pools may be closed this weekend to prevent the possible spread of the infection, and others await inspection before reopening as they require state and county approval to operate. The safest option is a backyard pool with a small group of people.
The pools themselves are considered safe as long as chlorine, bromine and other chemicals are properly calibrated, since the virus is not transmitted through water, Sexton said. However, areas around a pool, such as pool rails, seats, and sides, are "high contact" surfaces that could contain virus particles. As in the previous activities, the risk increases when there are more people around and the risk decreases when you are with the same group that you have seen during the quarantine.
Still, be careful. It all comes down to how big the crowd is and how far you are from other people, ”said Sexton. "This is not a good time to play water polo or volleyball, where you are touching the same objects."
The journey should still be as limited as possible, but if you must, don't share the journey with others who are not at home, Chi said. Long-distance travel, in particular, can be a problem due to poor ventilation and interactions with other people when stopped by gas, food, or toilets. Wash your hands after pumping gas and wear your mask if you need to go inside. Opt for takeout options instead of dinner.
"Just like you don't leave home without a phone or wallet, you shouldn't leave home without a mask," Allen said. "If you are separated from the others, it is okay to lower the mask, but if you are near others in a store, you should wear it."
Public transportation also presents potential hazards as people cross paths and use high-contact surfaces such as handrails, doors, and buttons. In an elevator, for example, you can carry a pen in your back pocket to press the buttons, and then cover the exposed part and clean it up later, Chi said.
"Wear a mask, and ideally, also gloves," Chi said. "You could have a" dirty "gloved hand for surfaces and a" clean "hand in case you need to grab your phone, ID card or credit card."
Hotels and vacation rentals
If you want to travel and stay overnight, first check availability. Some tourism communities, for example, may have reduced access to food and services, Sexton said. Also consider your own health problems: If you experience symptoms and become ill during your trip, would you feel comfortable visiting a doctor or hospital away from home?
Next, ask about cleaning and security protocols. If you are staying in a multi-guest building, ask how physical distancing will work and how meals are handled. If any questions or concerns come to mind, don't hesitate to ask.
"We are still in the early stages of this pandemic, and this is not the time to let our guard down," Allen said. "Even though we have reached the point where we are ready for a change, we still need systems to manage this effectively."
Later this summer
Plans for the upcoming vacation, such as July 4, should be based on trends in COVID-19 case numbers in the coming weeks. For now, the same advice applies to distancing, handwashing, and wearing face masks, Sexton said. Spend time with a small number of people to reduce the risk of transmission, and slowly increase your social contacts based on regional, local, and personal risk factors.
In good news, outdoor venues, beaches, and parks may have better policies later this summer to regulate parking, spacing, masks, and hand hygiene. Until then, however, public health experts recommend a slow, gradual plan to meet with others and socialize again.
"We need to see this as a privilege and one that can and will have to be revoked quickly," Allen said. "It is up to us to do our part, otherwise we will return to where we were in the past few months."
CDC, "How COVID-19 Extends".
Joseph Allen, press conference call on May 19.
Chunhei Chi, interview on May 20.
Marybeth Sexton, interview on May 20.
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