A Doctor Explains How To Safely Attend Event Gatherings Right Now

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

The beginning of September marks eight months since the first coronavirus case was detected in the U.S. And while cases are still increasing without a vaccine or cure available, 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 friend group may feel the same way. 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, you can get your point across, stay safe, and still keep the peace with your friends.

What To Know Before Attending An Event

If you’re making plans with friends, 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 amount 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, it can be helpful to find out which one so that you can call ahead and ask about what safety precautions they’re taking to protect staff and customers against the virus. You can also find out the menu beforetime so that you don’t have to touch the one the restaurant provides.

Most importantly, you should find out if everyone will be wearing masks or not. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people 2 years of age or older should wear cloth face coverings in public places.

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

It may feel weird suggesting your friends wear masks, but your safety is more important than any discomfort you may feel. Having an open and honest conversation with your friends 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 and realize people aren’t social distancing, don’t feel embarrassed to remind everyone that safety should be everyone’s main priority. There are now 10 million global cases of COVID-19, and it’s important that everyone take this seriously. 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 graphics going around social media claiming to demonstrate how effective wearing masks can be, The Associated Press has released information stating that there is no evidence that can prove the graphic is true. This means that you can’t really determine how much safer you’d be with one mask in the equation versus two.

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. So if you find that you’re the only person at a gathering wearing a mask, reassess right away. "You want to not only help protect other people, but you want to make sure that you’re protected as well," Dr. Caudle says.

Are Indoor Gatherings Safe If Guests Practice Social Distancing?

Indoor gatherings can get a little more tricky when it comes to protecting yourself against COVID-19. 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. "It’s tough, especially when face masks have become so politicized," Dr. Caudle says. "But we have to remember that COVID-19 is very real and it can impact anybody." She points out that many people may think that it’s just like a cold and that they’ll get over it, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

"This is about us working together and doing what’s right for everyone, which is truly social distancing," Dr. Caudle says. "It’s wearing our masks, it’s washing our hands, it’s maybe not going to the parties and the bars … because it truly is safest thing to do for ourselves and the people in our communities."

If you don’t feel safe with the circumstances that your friends are going out in, don’t go. In the midst of a pandemic, everyone should be understanding of everyone else’s concerns. Plus, you can always catch up with friends with Zoom calls, FaceTimes, or Google Hangouts.

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