Think you might have COVID-19?
As we head toward winter, it might be more important than ever not to let down our pandemic guard. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need a big crowd to wreak havoc. A small gathering in a small space can be just as risky.
You might be inclined to ask: How small?
“I think it depends on the size of the room,” said Stephen Hippler, MD, chief clinical officer of OSF Multispecialty Services. “If you’re in a small dorm room, two or three may be a large gathering.”
Poor ventilation increases the risk
Those are sobering words, especially as colder weather drives people to spend more time indoors.
We know that the virus is transmitted from person to person. It travels through the air in tiny droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, laughs, sings or even breathes. That’s why it’s important for people to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet and wear a mask to help prevent the virus from spreading.
It’s easier to keep your distance outdoors, where sunlight and breezes also can help keep the virus under control. But indoor spaces often do not have good ventilation. People shut their doors and windows to keep out the cold. The air in the room stagnates, giving the virus a better opportunity to linger.
“I’m more concerned now that winter is coming and all the windows and doors are closed and the humidity is dropping,” Dr. Hippler said. “I think that sets this up to be a potentially dangerous winter season, even if the gatherings are small.”
Gathering size doesn’t matter
The best advice is to avoid indoor gatherings of any kind, especially in smaller rooms that make distancing difficult, if not impossible. That includes traditional family holiday celebrations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that an increasing number of COVID-19 cases are being traced to family gatherings. Size doesn’t matter. Anytime people from different households get together, the risk of infection increases.
If you can’t resist the urge to host or attend such a gathering, take precautions to protect yourself and others.
“The key, as with everything, is to be smart,” Dr. Hippler said. He makes several recommendations:
- Don’t go out if you are not feeling well – and ask others to do the same.
- Keep your group small. Invite fewer people.
- Wear a mask.
- Avoid close contact with people. (CDC defines close contact as being within six feet for more than 15 minutes without a mask.)
- Keep doors and windows open, if appropriate, to enhance the airflow.
- Wash your hands.
Hunker down, be smart, be safe
Trying to plan your holidays during a pandemic is hard. So is choosing to break with traditions like a big Thanksgiving feast, or opening presents together around the Christmas tree, or throwing a New Year’s Eve party.
You might consider virtual alternatives or drive-by celebrations.
“Even as awkward as it may seem to wear masks at a family gathering, that’s still something you may need to consider,” Dr. Hippler said. “Ask people who are sick to stay home. And continue to wash our hands, wash our hands and wash our hands some more.”