CDC Gives Guidelines for Travel, Cookouts
By Heather Grey
Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at community events and gatherings.
The agency has also issued recommendations to help people manage the risk during other personal and social activities.
In these guidelines, the CDC emphasizes the importance of staying home when sick, maintaining physical distancing, wearing face masks, and practicing good hand hygiene.
The agency also advises event organizers to take local circumstances into account when deciding whether or not to host, cancel, postpone, or otherwise adjust an event or gathering.
"[The CDC guidance] is very much based on the desire to give everybody an idea of what the risks are and help people make informed decisions on how to reduce the risks as low as possible," Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency physician and director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, told Healthline.
"It's based on the best available evidence on what we know about how this virus is spread, with the understanding that people are going to have different risk tolerances," he added.
Some Activities Pose Higher Risk
Some types of community events, gatherings, and activities pose greater risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than others, warns the CDC.
Virtual events and gatherings held online or over the phone provide the safest option for connecting with other people, the agency advises.
When it comes to in-person activities, smaller outdoor gatherings tend to pose lower risk than larger gatherings and those held indoors.
The less time that people spend in close contact with each other, the less likely they are to contract the virus or pass it to others — especially if everyone wears a face mask.
"The most effective way to reduce risk is to avoid large indoor gatherings altogether. This setting poses the highest risk of exposure and potential transmission of the virus," Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.
"Outdoor events while wearing a mask represent a safer option," he continued.
"Virtual meetings are the best way to have a meeting in this context," he said.
Risk Varies From Place to Place
When someone is assessing the risk that an event, gathering, or other activity may pose, the CDC encourages them to take their local circumstances into account.
Some municipalities and states have issued stricter guidelines and rules around events, gatherings, and other activities, compared with others.
The rate of transmission and how likely you are to get the virus also vary from place to place, both within and between states.
If an event or gathering is held in an area where virus transmission rates are high, that raises the risk that someone with SARS-CoV-2 will attend and pass it on to others.
If someone travels to an event or gathering from outside the local area, they may carry the virus with them or pick it up in transit and pass it to other attendees after they arrive.
"Having a family reunion where people are flying in from 30 different states is much riskier than having a cookout with your neighbors," Cioe-Pena said.
Some People More Vulnerable
Some community members face heightened risk of developing severe illness if they do contract SARS-CoV-2.
For example, older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be more likely to develop a severe infection or complications.
The CDC advises people to take those personal risk factors into account when planning an activity or deciding whether to participate in one.
"If it's a family gathering where there are a fair number of older persons who are over age 60, many of whom likely have underlying illnesses, that's a group I'd be much more cautious about," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Healthline.
"If the COVID virus got to that gathering and spread among them, it could make a lot of them very seriously ill," he said.
Protect Yourself and Others
To lower your risk for contracting or transmitting SARS-CoV-2, the CDC recommends keeping at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and members of other households.
When you can't maintain 6 feet of distance from members of other households or you're spending time around those people indoors, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask.
If you're helping to host an event, gathering, or other activity, you may need to limit attendance, make changes to the layout of your venue, or use other strategies to enable attendees to keep their distance from each other.
If your guests or event attendees will be eating with each other, consider asking them to bring their own food and drinks or take steps to limit the number of people who touch food containers, condiments, and serving ware.
For example, designate one person to serve all of the food.
Frequent handwashing is also important for reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, the CDC advises. So is regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches.
When in Doubt, Stay Home
If you've tested positive for the virus or have symptoms of COVID-19, or you've had close contact with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days, the CDC advises you to stay home.
If you're hosting an event or gatherings, ask attendees to stay home if they've tested positive for the virus, have any symptoms, or been in close contact with someone with symptoms in the past 2 weeks.
"I think we have to be very mindful that social distancing has flattened the curve in many parts of this country, and if we want to keep it flat, we have to keep doing that," Schaffner said.
"I know it's tedious, I know it's disruptive, I know it's uncomfortable. I know it makes many people unhappy — but it's necessary," he added.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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