As temperatures rise and sunny days grow more common, large groups of people are spending more time outside. Physical distancing and wearing a mask are still the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it’s important to understand how the virus spreads outdoors.
“Even as the warm weather increases, it’s not the time to get comfortable and lax with adherence to precautions,” said Melissa Bronstein, Director of Infection Prevention and Control for Rochester Regional Health.
Initial phases of reopening have begun across the country, and there are still risks that require health and safety precautions. Health experts nationwide agree that the most important guidelines to adhere to outside are to remain at least six feet from others and continue to wear a mask.
“Following the correct precautions to stop the spread of the virus still plays a big role in keeping yourself and others safe,” explains Bronstein. “You may encounter people who seem healthy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t carriers of the virus—so keeping a safe distance and following health guidelines is still as important as ever.”
The most common way for the new coronavirus to spread is through droplets in the air when one person is in close contact with another person.
According to the CDC, you can become infected when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, and those droplets enter your mouth, nose, or possibly inhaled into the lungs.
Perhaps the biggest question leading into the summer is whether being outdoors is safe. When given the opportunity, choosing to be outside among other people is safer than being inside, explains Bronstein
“In the open air, coronavirus particles disperse more quickly than they do inside.”
Bronstein says it’s okay to go outside but avoid crowded areas and any other instance in which you’re forced to be within six feet of others.
“Coronavirus droplets don’t get carried far in the wind,” said Bronstein. “Wind may slightly increase the distance the particles travel before reaching the ground, like if you were to drop something light when it’s windy—it will travel slightly further, but it won’t stay in the air long.”
Bronstein also adds that humidity in the air can help slow down the travel of particles through air currents.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School, MIT, and other institutions found a reduction of coronavirus transmission in average temperatures above 77 degrees. The study found that each additional 1.8-degree increase in temperature resulted in an additional 3.1% reduction in the virus's reproduction number (called R-naught, the average number of new infections caused by one infected person).
However, the study concluded that the increase in temperature due to summer weather won't sufficiently contain the spread of the virus, and that physical distancing and wearing a mask is always the safest way to stay protected.
“Parks and playgrounds are safe, provided that you practice social distancing, wash your hands, and carry and use hand sanitizer regularly,” advises Bronstein.
Keep in mind that public surfaces may have been touched before you were there.
“Touching a surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth imposes a high risk of infection.”
Be sure to consider health risks when deciding on outdoor activities. While parks and open areas are safe when proper guidelines are followed, the safest place to be when outside are areas where you can keep your distance from other people.
Bronstein emphasizes that coronavirus should still be taken seriously. New York State and our community are making progress because people are following social distancing guidelines and wearing masks in public.
When spending time outdoors, be sure to continue to take precautions to reduce the spread of the virus.
How to reduce spread when outside
While there are safe ways to enjoy the outdoors, there are certain areas you should avoid in order to remain protected, like being in a crowded dog park or going to a crowded playground or waterpark.
Keep in mind that those you encounter may not be taking the same safety precautions as you.
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