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The riskiest and least risky activities you can do with friends during the pandemic

INSIDER logoINSIDER 6/3/2020 (Anna Medaris Miller,Aylin Woodward)
a group of people riding on the back of a park: Anna Miller © Anna Miller Anna Miller
  • As states open up and Americans get out more, many are wondering how to see friends in safe way. 
  • As with any activities, risks of spreading or contracting the coronavirus largely come down to how close you are to others and for how long, and whether you're outdoors or indoors. 
  • One of the least risky activities is a brief, socially distanced walk with one friend, while one of the most risky is going to a crowded house party. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's an unusual summer in America, with many of the typical markers of the season — kids at sleepaway camp, extended families reuniting for vacations, and friends going to midday movies when it gets too hot — conspicuously absent. 

But after months staying home, and with many states opening up stores, restaurants, and beaches, Americans want to do something — and to do it with friends they haven't seen in real life in what seems like ages. 

The good news is that you can see friends, just perhaps not in the ways you did last summer, at least if you want to stay safe. 

As with any activity during the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is risk-free, but the level of risk depends mostly on how close you are to others and for how long, how many people are involved, and whether you're outdoors or in. 

As Dr. Erich Anderer, a New York City neurosurgeon, previously told Insider, "The general principle should be: Outside is better than inside; open is better than closed; fewer is better than more people; and stay away from sick people." 

Eating together indoors is not the best idea

"This virus really likes people being indoors in an enclosed space for prolonged periods of close face-to-face contact," William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University, previously told Business Insider.

That's basically the definition of indoor restaurant dining. To make the situation more risky, you can't wear a mask while you eat and are, naturally, talking to your friend between bites. 

All that adds up to decent chances of spreading or contracting the coronavirus, since it typically spreads via droplets that spray up to 6 feet between people. Loud talking could allow them to travel further, some research suggests. 

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a building: Restaurants serve customers outside as Phase One of reopening begins in Northern Virginia Reuters © Reuters Restaurants serve customers outside as Phase One of reopening begins in Northern Virginia Reuters

If you must eat out indoors, where it's permitted, do so with just a few (at most) friends, keep it brief, make sure the area is well-ventilated, and, if possible, sit next to each other rather than facing each other. If the staff isn't wearing masks, leave, Schaffner suggests. 

Picnicking outdoors is lower risk  

The reasons your chance of infection might be lower outside, Schaffner said, are that it's easier to maintain social distance outdoors and that the virus has to navigate wind, heat, and humidity to jump between people.

That's why outdoor dining tends to be safer than indoor dining, and picnicking may have some advantages to al fresco dining at a restaurant: You can more easily spread out, face the same direction, and each bring your own food, which is safer than sharing. 

Outside of a restaurant, you can also better control how long you hang out. It's best to keep your meal short: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your risk of getting sick goes significantly up after about 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to the virus. 

And don't forget to thoroughly wash your hands or, if that's not possible, use hand-sanitizer before and after eating. 

House parties and other large indoor events are very risky

This is not the summer to pack into house parties, which fall into the category of "super-spreader events," or those in which a COVID-positive person is likely to pass on the virus to more people than a typical infected person. 

So far, super-spreader events have mostly involved indoor gatherings in which lots of people from different households were in close, extended contact, such as religious services, birthday parties, and choir practices.

a group of people holding a sign: FILE PHOTO: Protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York Reuters © Reuters FILE PHOTO: Protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York Reuters

Outdoor concert and protests still come with real risks

While outdoors is better than in, you can still be at risk if you're with large groups of strangers coming into close contact. An outdoor concert, for example, is concerning, especially if people are tightly packed and singing along without masks. 

Joining a protest with friends comes with more complicated considerations. 

"As an African-American physician, I do not want to tell people not to protest, because I think it's been an effective tool to press groups to try to fight for change and try to fight for equal rights," emergency medicine Dr. Garth Walker, who treats coronavirus patients in Chicago, previously told Insider.

If you plan to protest, wear a face mask, try to maintain a distance from others, and quarantine yourself from vulnerable populations when you get home. 

Going to a pool or the beach is relatively safe, with precautions 

Water itself is quite safe from the coronavirus, with fresh and saltwater thought to quickly inactivate it and chlorine to kill it. 

Like picnicking outdoors, relaxing on a beach blanket has benefits over sitting on a couch with friends indoors, if you can keep far enough apart. It's even better if you keep moving, also decently distanced, by walking along the beach rather than sunbathing. Wearing a mask too will keep you even safer. 

One of the biggest risks of going to a pool or beach is the "going" part: If you can walk, bike, or drive separate cars to get there, you're pretty safe. But if you're piling a group of friends into an Uber or subway car to get there, you're at much higher risk. 

jf/Getty © jf/Getty jf/Getty

Again, it matters how long you stay: Best to keep it short enough to not need to use public restrooms or locker rooms, where people are often packed tightly and high-touches surfaces might harbor the virus. 

The particular beach or pool matters a lot too. Beaches that are packed with non-mask-wearing partiers could be coronavirus hotspots, while outdoor pools with strict capacity limits and closed locker rooms are less likely to be. 

Inviting a friend for a short walk is pretty safe 

Like walking on the beach with a friend tends to be less risky than lounging next to each other on chairs, taking a short walk with a pal can be pretty safe — especially if you can do it somewhere pretty isolated where you can keep sufficient space between you.

Even if not, walking has the bonus of each friend facing the same direction and, unlike dining, can be done while wearing a mask. 

The risks of transmission from contracting the virus from a passing stranger are very low, too. 

"I would not worry about walking by someone," Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told Slate. "Even in a health-care setting, contact is defined by being near someone for a certain amount of time. I would not worry about these fleeting encounters." 

Your friends also matter 

Before inviting a friend to do anything, it's a good idea to chat about how you've been behaving the past several months. If they've taken social distancing and other precautions less seriously, now may not be the time to combine forces. 

"It's a little like those conversations that you have when you're first dating somebody and you're trying to negotiate exclusivity," Dr. Mimi Winsberg, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the mental health telemedicine service Brightside, previously told Insider. "You're like, 'OK, we'll hang out together, but how many other people are you hanging out with so I know what I'm exposed to?" 

Read the original article on Insider


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