Although it’s safer to gather outside than indoors, the virus can still be transmitted in outdoor spaces when people gather in large groups or stand close to one another for long periods of time. Alcohol can loosen inhibitions, prompting people to forget about social distancing. Loud music can prompt people to stand closer and speak louder, which can spew more viral particles and put you at risk even if you’re wearing a mask, health experts say.
Dr. Murray said that whatever plan you have for the holiday weekend, ask yourself how you can make it safer for everyone.
“People need to socialize and to see people who are important to them,” Dr. Murray said. “If you were thinking of being indoors, go outdoors. If you were thinking about being outdoors, spread out further; wear masks. Think about what you can do to move down the risk continuum.”
While many people feel safer socializing with family members, a number of outbreaks have been traced back to family parties that included relatives from more than one household. In Maryland, 44 percent of the state’s new cases were traced back to family gatherings, compared with 23 percent from house parties and 21 percent to outdoor events, according to a tweet posted by Gov. Larry Hogan.
After a family gathering of two dozen people in Catawba County, N.C., 14 people who attended became ill, but it didn’t end there. “Before they started to show symptoms, they continued with their daily lives, such as going to work or taking a beach trip with other families,” Jennifer McCracken, Catawba County’s public health director, wrote in a case study of the event. “This set into motion a person-to-person contact chain that to date has spread COVID-19 to 41 people in nine different families and eight different workplaces.”
Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, said the holiday weekend would multiply the number of family gatherings around the country.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated September 4, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, though some people don’t show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and received supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms.
Why is it safer to spend time together outside?
- Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
“A family gathering one weekend in August that sets off cases in a given county or town is one thing,” Dr. Gonsalves said. “One hundred family gatherings in that county on Labor Day weekend makes it a much larger epidemiological impact.”