What We Know (and Don’t) About Catching Covid-19 Outdoors
While cases of Covid-19 surge to new highs nationwide, responsible outdoor activities are being encouraged. From California to New York, states and cities are shutting down indoor dining (or keeping it closed) while allowing outdoor service and keeping beaches and parks open, too. Governors are coming around to the view that scientists have been espousing for months: The coronavirus transmits more easily indoors than outdoors.
“The risk is definitely lower outdoors,” says Kimberly Prather, PhD, an atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The primary reason is there’s just such a large volume of clean air.”
Imagine a tablespoon of saltwater dispersing in a bucket of fresh water versus in a small glass of water, she suggests. Sunlight has also been shown to kill the coronavirus, she says, although the effect takes a few minutes.
However, outdoors is not totally safe, and images of crowded beaches and maskless pool parties over the Fourth of July weekend have health experts worried that already skyrocketing infection rates will just get worse. After all, an infected person’s coronavirus-laden respiratory exhalations don’t always obey the six-foot rule.
“I’m wearing a surgical mask at all times and I’m farther away than six feet. I’m at least 10, indoors or outdoors,” Prather tells Elemental. “Distance is your friend. Always.” Prather admits she’s more cautious than many people, both because of what she knows and what remains unknown.
“The risk is definitely lower outdoors. The primary reason is there’s just such a large volume of clean air.”
How the coronavirus gets airborne
The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can be passed along by handshakes or after landing on surfaces, and maybe even through human feces. But the primary means of spread is thought to be through the air, especially in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and especially within six feet.
Here’s what happens: When we breathe, talk, sing, cough, or sneeze, we spew droplets of…