Being Outdoors Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe From COVID-19 – A White House Event Showed What Not to Do
By Thomas A. Russo
If you think you're safe from the coronavirus just because you're outdoors, think again.
While the wind and the large volume of air make the outdoors less risky than being indoors, circumstances matter.
Someone who is infectious can cough or sneeze, or just talk and, if you happen to inhale those respiratory droplets or they plop into your eye, you can get infected. If you shake hands with an infected person and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you also run a chance of getting infected. You don't have to be inhaling an infected person's air for very long. What matters is the dose.
As an infectious disease doctor, I get a lot of questions from patients about COVID-19 risks. Here are some answers about the risks outdoors.
Doesn’t Wind Make Outside Safer Than Inside?
It's true that the wind helps disperse respiratory droplets that can carry viruses.
When you're indoors, one of the big concerns about how the coronavirus spreads is aerosols – tiny, light droplets people emit along with larger droplets when they breathe. These particles can linger in the air, and the concentration can build up in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces. There's less of a risk in open outdoor settings because of the sheer volume of air and available space to physically distance.
At least one study, not yet peer reviewed, found COVID-19 patients were nearly 20 times more likely to have been infected indoors than outdoors.
But that doesn't mean you're in a protective bubble when outdoors.
What Behaviors Could Put You at Risk Outside?
To get a sense of how easy it is to put yourself at risk outdoors, look at crowd photos from the White House Rose Garden event on Sept. 26. About 200 people attended that ceremony, and at least 12 tested positive for the virus within days, including President Donald Trump and two senators. When and where each person was infected isn't known, but several behaviors at the Rose Garden ceremony raised the risk of getting or sharing the virus.
The first problem with this scene: Very few people were wearing face masks.
With no mask, infectious people can be shedding the virus when they talk and there is nothing to stop the respiratory droplets. For people not yet infected, no mask means the virus has several ways to enter their bodies – nose and mouth as well as eyes. The lack of masks also raises the risk of getting a larger dose, and a higher viral load may mean a higher likelihood of severe disease.
People were also seated close together. And before and after the ceremony, they mingled – indoors and outdoors – shaking hands, leaning in for close conversations and hugging each other.
Remember that just breathing expels respiratory droplets, and loud, animated speech like laughing or shouting expels more. We don't yet know how much virus is needed to trigger symptoms, but those doses add up. So, you might get a small dose from a person sitting next to you, but if that person later gives you a big hug or shakes your hand, they could give you another dose. Or you might talk to someone else who is infectious for several minutes and inhale more virus particles.
All it takes is one person in the peak infectious period – the 24 to 48 hours before and after symptoms start – to spark a superspreader event.
When Do I Have to Wear a Mask Outdoors?
If you're running or walking, carry a mask with you. When you're near other people, put it on.
If you're sitting at an outdoor café, try to mask up between bites and sips, especially if your age or health or weight make you vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
The likelihood of a passing interaction from someone walking by a table is small, but it's still possible. The safest spot when eating outdoors is a table away from high-traffic areas and upwind of everyone else.
Is Six Feet of Social Distancing Enough?
Twelve or 15 feet is safer.
It's all about minimizing risk. You can never drive that risk to zero when you're in public.
Can I Still Have People Over for an Outside Party?
Think of the coronavirus like a sexually transmitted disease – everyone claims to behave safely, but do you really know where they've been? It just takes one infected person. Rapid COVID-19 tests aren't 100% accurate, either, and are presently unavailable for most people.
To keep things safe for an outdoor gathering, set up tables for each social bubble – a family, for example. Keep the tables at least 15 to 20 feet apart. Set up food on individual plates in a central location and have people or each bubble go up separately. Don't share utensils or food or glasses. Wear masks as much as possible, and don't forget physical distancing.
There is a lot we still don't know about the coronavirus, including what the long-term damage is. Regardless of how old you are or how healthy, do what you can to avoid the virus until there's a vaccine. Even if you get over the illness quickly, we don't know what the long-term consequences will be.
Thomas A. Russo is a Professor and Chief, Infectious Disease, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
Disclosure statement: Thomas A. Russo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- These Are Some of the Highest-Risk Places for COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday.
- U.S. Air Quality Decreased in Recent Years, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Air Pollution Shortens Life Span by Three Years, Researchers Say ... ›
- Cleaner Air in Europe Has Resulted in 11,000 Fewer Deaths, New ... ›
- Half of U.S. Air Pollution Deaths Linked to Out-of-State Emissions ... ›
By Hannah Seo
If you've been considering throwing out that old couch, now might be a good time. Dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain a suite of compounds that impact our health, according to new research.
- How Chemicals Like PFAS Can Increase Your Risk of Severe ... ›
- PFAS Chemicals Contaminate U.S. Food Supply, FDA Confirms ... ›
- This Strategy Protects Public Health From PFAS 'Forever Chemicals ... ›
Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?