A mask discarded in a bush
Outdoor hangs are getting frosty and the holidays are just around the corner. So we asked an infectious disease expert how we should navigate the fall. Dan Gaken / Flickr via Creative Commons

Cold-Weather Pandemic Advice From An Infectious Disease Expert

Outdoor hangs are getting frosty and the holidays are just around the corner. So we asked an infectious disease expert how we should navigate the fall. Dan Gaken / Flickr via Creative Commons
A mask discarded in a bush
Outdoor hangs are getting frosty and the holidays are just around the corner. So we asked an infectious disease expert how we should navigate the fall. Dan Gaken / Flickr via Creative Commons

Cold-Weather Pandemic Advice From An Infectious Disease Expert

The seasons are changing but the novel coronavirus is still with us.

And that’s leaving many people with questions about how to safely socialize with friends and family when the weather makes small outdoor gatherings less viable.

So we called up Dr. Emily Landon, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago. She gave Nerdette listeners some therapeutic advice about the pandemic back in June.

And now that autumn is upon us, Landon explained how we might approach Halloween, the rest of the holiday season and the great indoors. Below are highlights from the conversation.

The problem with hanging out indoors

Emily Landon: We know a lot more about how coronavirus is transmitted now than we did before, but all the signs point to being inside as being kind of riskier. Especially inside without your mask on.

This whole aerosolized transmission thing is in a continuum with droplets. You can think of droplets being a close up problem. When you’re within six feet of someone, you’re likely to get droplets in your nose, mouth or eyes, and that is probably the most risky situation.

But you have to think of aerosols as hanging out and filling up the entire room. Kind of like the person in your family who wears too much aftershave and you can smell it even after they’ve left the room. That’s what aerosols are, and if somebody doesn’t have a mask on and the room doesn’t get a lot of ventilation, you can see how somebody being there for 30 minutes is not as bad as somebody being there for an hour and a half, because everytime you open your mouth more aerosols are coming out.

Greta Johnsen: And does that mean it doesn’t matter even if they’re 10 feet away?

Landon: Yeah. That’s why masks really matter. Then you’re holding in a lot of those aerosols.

What to do over the holidays

Landon: I think we have to be more measured about our holidays. So you can decide you want to be with your family, but then you want to go into that with as low a risk of actually having COVID as possible. And so that means adhering to some sort of personal stay-at-home order type thing in the days leading up to it. Everybody should do that.

Johnsen: Does it seem possible then if people are able to quarantine ahead of time or get tests that have negative results beforehand, then maybe they don’t need to worry quite so much?

Landon: A negative test the morning of your get-together would be fine, but the more days you get past the test it’s not really representing what could happen. Because you could spend a whole day with someone with COVID, get tested the next day and be negative, and still have COVID in two days. So you can’t rely on older tests.

Your best bet if you’ve got high-risk people is for everybody to do a two-week quarantine before you get together. And that means being extremely careful. No masks off in indoor environments. Really limiting your contacts.

And Halloween?

Landon: Incorporate your mask into your costume is my number one advice for Halloween. You shouldn’t hand out candy if you’re sick or if you might have COVID and you’re in quarantine. And if you are a parent who is worried about your kid who has picked up candy, you can always quarantine the candy for a couple of days, because if you let it sit for a few days then any COVID that might be on the outside of it is gone.

Just wash hands closely. Make sure if you’re handing out candy you’re cleaning your hands. Then have a plan as a parent for what you want to do.

This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.