A Doctor Explains How To Stay Safe At Gatherings During The Pandemic

"What we know is that outside is safer than inside."

by Syeda Khaula Saad
Originally Published: 
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There have been over 47 million cases of COVID-19 globally with more than 1.2 million deaths. And while cases are once again on the rise across the country, many states have eased up lockdowns, reopened business, and allowed for social gatherings. Though you may be keeping up your efforts to protect yourself and others against COVID-19, not everyone in your family or friend group may feel the same way. With the holidays coming up, this can make planning get-togethers a little uncomfortable, especially if you're the only one constantly reminding everyone else to stay safe.

But by learning how to navigate talking all things masks and social distancing with your friends and family, you can get your point across, stay safe, and still keep the peace at the holidays.

What To Know Before Attending An Event

As you're making plans for the holiday season, get all the details of the event beforehand to figure out if you want to go or not. Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, Family Physician and associate professor at Rowan University, tells Bustle, "You should be thinking about your own personal risk, no matter where you live. Are you high risk? Do you live with people who are high risk like family members?"

It's also a good idea to find out how many people are going to be there, where the event is taking place, and what you'll be doing. Dr. Caudle says that a few questions you should be asking are: "How many people are going to be there? Is it a crowded event (which I do not recommend)? Or is it a smaller group? Is it a place where people can social distance or not? Is it a place where you have a chance to mitigate risks by being outside, which is less risky than being inside?" If the event is limited to a small number of people and being held somewhere open and outdoors, you may feel more comfortable attending than if the event were with many people in a smaller, indoor space.

If you're planning to go to a restaurant, you can call ahead and ask about what safety precautions they're taking to protect staff and customers against the virus. You can also look up the menu beforehand so that you don't have to touch the one the restaurant provides.

Most importantly, you should find out if everyone you're going with will be wearing masks or not. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people two years of age or older should wear cloth face coverings in public places.

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What's The Best Way To Remind People To Wear Masks & Practice Social Distancing?

It may feel weird suggesting friends or family wear masks, but your safety is more important than any discomfort you may feel. Having an open and honest conversation with your loved ones on why you're concerned about the virus is probably the best way to suggest everyone wears a mask. Let them know that you're concerned about the safety of everyone and that masks are a deal-breaker for you. Express to them that even if no one else wears a mask, you will be. Or excuse yourself from the event altogether.

What If No One Else Is Social Distancing?

If you get to an event or holiday gathering and realize people aren't social distancing, don't feel embarrassed to remind everyone that safety should be everyone's main priority. But if people continue to ignore social distancing guidelines, practice them yourself. Keep your distance, keep your mask on, and if you really can't enjoy the event that way, it can be a good idea to leave early or even avoid the event entirely.

What If You're The Only Person Wearing A Mask?

While there have been some graphics going around social media with unsubstantiated claims about mask effectiveness, multiple reports have found that masks work. Plus, wearing a face mask is not only protection for yourself but for the people around you.

Respiratory droplets are the main channel through which coronavirus is spread, and once the droplets are formed, they can pollute the air, as well as any body parts that are touched. "When we wear a mask, we're protecting the other person from our droplets," Dr. Caudle says. "Masks primarily do that, although they may provide some coverage the other way, but we're still learning about how masks function."

She says that if you're the only person wearing a mask, you may not be as protected against other people's secretions. If you find that you're the only person at a gathering wearing a mask, you can reconsider. "You want to not only help protect other people, but you want to make sure that you're protected as well," Dr. Caudle says.

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Are Indoor Gatherings Safe If Guests Practice Social Distancing?

With the weather cooling down, many holiday gatherings will likely be taking place indoors, which can get a little more tricky when it comes to protecting yourself against COVID-19. When indoors, air is circulated within a smaller space and you don't know how well everything indoors has been sanitized. While it's hard to determine just how safe or unsafe indoor gatherings are, you can always assess a situation and see how you feel accordingly.

"We're not able to quantify any particular environment or thing and say, 'Oh, this is 50% more safe than that' ... partly because the virus is so new," Dr. Caudle says. "What we know is that outside is safer than inside."

If all the people in the indoor gathering have been quarantining for at least 14 days and have tested negative for COVID-19, it might be a safer bet than gathering indoors with people who have been freely moving from place to place without getting tested.

Regardless, your safety and peace of mind are more important than any event you're invited to. "We have to remember that COVID-19 is very real and it can impact anybody," Dr. Caudle says, pointing out that many people may think that it's just like a cold and that they'll get over it, but that's not the case for everyone.

If you don't feel safe with the circumstances in which your friends and family are celebrating, don't go. In the midst of a pandemic, hopefully friends and family will be understanding of any concerns. Plus, you can always catch up with Zoom calls, FaceTimes, or Google Hangouts.

With additional reporting by Mia Mercado

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