What you need to know about COVID-19 and the summer months

Even if the coronavirus had never penetrated the US, most Americans would be eagerly awaiting the coming summer months. 

Before the height of the pandemic, economic, political, and social tensions loomed between half-hearted attempts at spring. June was meant to be a reprieve from all the nonsense 2019 kept insisting was momentum.  

But then the shutdowns happened. To suppress COVID-19’s exponential growth curve we had to essentially put our lives on hold, with the hopes that a semblance of it would survive without us until the coast was clear.

Social distancing could very well last another year or two, which means now’s a good time to build tracks around immobility.

Let’s start with the good news: Most experts agree that getting fresh air is both safe and necessary. As long as you practice social distancing and wear a mask during high-risk situations you’re safer outside than you are in enclosed areas. Sunlight and dilution are the Riggs and Murtaugh of virus patrol. 

“I think going outside is important for health,” commented Julia L. Marcus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in a press statement. “We know that being outdoors is a lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors. On a sunny, beautiful weekend, I think going outside is indicated, but I also think there are things to do to reduce our risk.”

For perspective, in a recent outbreak study of more than 7,300 confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections only one contracted the virus in an outdoor setting.

“We divided the venues in which the outbreaks occurred into six categories: homes, transport, food, entertainment, shopping, and miscellaneous,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major SARS-CoV-2 infection risk.”

We should be careful about allowing data like this to give way to a sanguine appreciation of our current health crisis. Just about 89,932 have died of COVID-19 in the US alone and 1.52 million have been infected. 

Enjoying summer has to follow extreme caution.  We have to sufficiently understand every single risk to avoid them. Healthy systems need to continue testing patients in order to identify avenues of exposure. And both have to be mindful of instructive symptoms so that recovery rates outpace transmission rates. 

Summer Glovin’

Every coronavirus exposure risk falls into one of two camps: fomite-based exposure and virion-based exposure.

Fomite-based exposure occurs when viral microorganisms that emanate from an infected individual are deposited on an inanimate object.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain stable on packagings like milk containers and detergent bottles for roughly two to three days. The same is true of refrigerators, pots, pans, sinks, and water bottles. 

Without intervention, the novel coronavirus can live on plastered walls and laminated countertop material for up to 36 hours. On plastic and stainless steel, this value is closer to 72 hours.

For most shipping boxes, the virus cannot survive more than 24 hours. This value decreases to four to eight hours when applied to aluminum cans and tinfoil. 

Some research has suggested that the coronavirus can live on smartphone screens for as long as 96 hours or four full days. 

When traveling, The Center For Disease Control and Prevention recommends carrying disinfectant wipes on your person if you can manage it.

Products composed of 60% alcohol,  62-71%  ethanol, 0.5%  hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 % sodium hypochlorite can deactivate infectious coronavirus material in under 60 seconds.  

Utilize masks and gloves if surface contact and tight spaces are unavoidable.. 

The more viable route for transmission is virion-based exposure, which occurs when a host comes into contact with submicroscopic agents consisting of an RNA or DNA core with a protein coat.

Coronavirus debris can remain infectious for at least three hours while airborne, though it becomes increasingly unstable over time. Sixty-six minutes after activated material leaves its host, half of the virus’s agents lose function suspended in aerosols. Another hour and six minutes later, 75% of viral material becomes inactive. 

Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 likely experiences virus inactivation as quickly as five minutes when incubation temperatures rise to 70°C. More research needs to be conducted to confirm this. 

If you don’t have the patience for all of the details, avoiding clusters is the most important takeaway from the information indexed above. Physical activities in and of themselves pose very little infection risk so long as participants keep proximity in mind. 

The canonized rule of thumb suggests a distance of six feet, however ensuing literature determined that coronavirus-bearing droplets of all sizes can actually travel 23 to 27 feet from their host after emission; important to remember if you plan on visiting a beach sometime soon. 

“In my opinion, pool water, fresh water in a lake or river, or seawater exposure would be extremely low transmission risk even without dilution (which would reduce risk further),” Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with Columbia University, said in a recent interview. “Probably the biggest risk for summer water recreation is crowds — a crowded pool locker room, dock or beach, especially if coupled with limited physical distancing or prolonged proximity to others. The most concentrated sources of the virus in such an environment will be the people hanging out at the pool, not the pool itself.”

While experts believe going for a jog without a mask is okay, try to bring one with you if you can transport it without contaminating it.  Speech bears the potential to produce an alarming number of active aerosols from SARS-Cov-2 infected respiratory particles. The louder one speaks, the more viral debris emitted.

These precautions bay belie the impression of hysteria. However, risks are often expressed via extremes to ensure the most vulnerable populations are protected. 

The truth is viral load is a reliable determinant of case severity. Research posits that successful COVID-19 development requires between a few hundred and a few thousand SARS-CoV-2 viruses to impair our adaptive immune response.

“The virus load is important,” said Eugene Chudnovsky, a physicist at Lehman College and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in a media release. “A single virus will not make anyone sick.” 

Remember to keep gatherings small. Do not share food, utensils, or beverages under any circumstances; routinely wash your hands and maintain a distance greater than six feet from strangers. 

“I think outdoors is so much better than indoors in almost all cases,” said Linsey Marr, an engineering professor and aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “There’s so much dilution that happens outdoors. As long as you’re staying at least six feet apart, I think the risk is very low.”

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com