Can You Catch Covid Outside? Yes, You Can.

You wouldn't attend an outdoor party where measles or smallpox was present. Covid is no different, especially now.

Doctor in plague mask.

My family all recently came down with Covid. After the first positive test, we started racking our brains for the source.

Where did it happen?

It matters.

Everyone knows Covid is here to stay, but they don't know that Covid causes brain damage, heart damage, and blood vessel damage. They don't know that it causes long term, even permanent damage to your immune system. This damage often goes undetected for months, until someone has a sudden stroke, heart attack, or a bad case of pneumonia. A lot of people simply don't want to know. It doesn't matter how many studies you show them.

They prefer to live in denial.

When you catch Covid, it's important to know where and how so that you don't make yourself vulnerable again.

My daughter spends 90 percent of her class time outdoors with a small group of 3-4 other kids. Whenever she goes indoors, she's flanked by air purifiers and Corsi-Rosenthal boxes that we donated. When and if we travel, we wear masks and use nose sprays. We don't fly. We drive. We don't eat inside anywhere. We take brief bathroom breaks at uncrowded rest stops.

She's good at wearing a mask.

There was only one place where our daughter was around a lot of unmasked people recently. It was during a party at a covered picnic area where a dozen families and staff crowded together, eating and drinking for an hour. When my spouse explained all the details, I said, "That's probably where it happened." That's where everyone let their guard down.

Some people have taken our bad news as an opportunity to explain, in the most condescending way, that you can't catch Covid outdoors, or that it's "extremely unlikely." That's not true. In fact, it's just another piece of Covid lore that's putting people at risk of infection.

We need to dispel this myth that being outside automatically protects you from contagious diseases. It doesn't.

Let's review the facts:

A study in Frontiers in Public Health found that transmission of viruses like Covid can and does happen outside. Specifically, the authors traced roughly 100 infections back to a night market in China. The more crowded the outdoor space, the longer you spend there, the more risk you face. As the authors write, "When customers removed masks and consumed meals at the same time... they could be exposed to aerosols exhaled by ICs [index cases] and become infected." They also identified several cases where someone was infected by inhaling aerosols in the "sundries area," or the shopping booths.

Here's the takeaway:

Outdoor spaces aren't created equal.

If you're shopping or eating in a crowded outdoor setting with partitions and covered areas, that's going to create spaces where aerosols linger for longer, "up to 1 hour and 39 minutes and still be contagious."

Another study in The Lancet confirmed outdoor transmission at two music festivals in Spain. The interesting thing here is that Spain was in the middle of its fifth wave during the festivals. Attendees were required to wear an FFP2 mask, except when they were eating and drinking, which was allowed everywhere during the first festival. During the second festival, the event managers wised up a little and banned eating and drinking near the stage.

Their findings:

If you attend an outdoor musical festival during a Covid wave, you're about twice as likely to get infected than if you stayed home.

According to the authors, "The increased risk observed in our cohort of attendees was in line with that reported for other social activities, such as going to restaurants and bars." Even the requirement for a negative test didn't help much, given the high number of false negatives.

So there you go.

Attending an outdoor music festival where people are packed together, eating and drinking essentially wherever they want, carries about the same risk of infection as going to a restaurant or bar, especially if you do it during a Covid wave. And let's face it, there's almost always a wave. Since we don't have reliable testing or wastewater monitoring anymore, it's very hard to tell when one wave ends and another one begins.

A study in the Euro-Mediterranean Journal for Environmental Integration acknowledges outdoor spread "via aerosols, as the virus can remain viable and infectious for hours." The authors refer to a number of factors that increase the chances of catching Covid outside, including "the presence of large numbers of people," and the presence of dust and smoke.

The weather also makes a difference.

Cooler, overcast days result in more outdoor transmission. Sunnier, warmer days make it harder to spread outside. Likewise, too much or too little humidity makes it easier to catch, inside or outside. The Department of Health and Human Services even has an online calculator you can use to determine the half-life and percentage decay of Covid aerosols depending on the temperature, UV index, and relative humidity. On a cool cloudy day with 50 percent humidity, it's going to take at least 20 minutes for viral aerosols to decay by half, and more than two hours for them to completely disperse.

That's plenty of time to catch Covid.

Another study in Atmosphere found that under the right conditions, Covid could spread outdoors over long distances. As the authors write, "on the level of a continent, viruses ignore borders, and infection can spread downwind of a contaminated region irrespective of the cross-border movement of persons." If you want to reduce spread, you have to employ effective masks, clean air, and ventilation, even in outdoor spaces.

The news media actually did an okay job reporting the risk of outdoor spread, even if they muddled that messaging later. A story in NPR cites a few experts on outdoor risk. For example, a professor at Harvard Medical School says, "the more transmissible a variant is indoors, the more transmissible it is in outdoor settings too." They recommend masks, testing, and ventilation even outside, and they suggest making sure it's not too crowded.

A piece in TIME Magazine said fairly bluntly, "being outside has never been a sure way to avoid Covid-19 transmission, especially at crowded events, like music festivals, which have been linked to outbreaks in the past." They interview several public health experts to conclude, "Being in the open air and away from other people is safer than being in a crowd with worse air circulation, like in a packed baseball stadium without a breeze."

This piece quotes Linsey Marr, the scientist who won a MacArthur Genius Award for her work on aerosolized viral spread:

"Transmission outdoors is most likely to occur in close-face-to-face conversation. There's also the possibility of transmission if you happen to be close enough and downwind of someone who is infected."

A piece in Fortune declares, "Your Covid protection outside isn't what it was in 2020." They describe Omicron as a "game changer" when it comes to outdoor spread, citing a reproductive rate of 18.6. That's tied with measles, "the world's most infectious viral disease."

That was a year ago.

Since then, Covid has become the most contagious virus humans have ever dealt with. It just keeps mutating, gaining abilities to infect us with lower doses while evading our immune systems. Covid beats out viruses like smallpox and measles in terms of raw reproductive rates.

I doubt anyone would be okay attending an outdoor party where someone had smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, or measles.

So why is Covid different?

Well, it's not.

The only difference is that the public has agreed to normalize Covid, led astray by the media who once reported actual medical facts but has increasingly catered to elitist wishful thinking.

The risk of outdoor infection goes up when you throw kids into the mix. Not only do children spread Covid, a study in JAMA Pediatrics found that young children carry up to 100 times more virus in their noses and throats than adults. It doesn't matter if they're symptomatic, either. Another study in JAMA found that 70 percent of household transmission begins with a child.

So, can kids spread Covid-19 outside?

Yes, they can.

You can catch Covid outside if you attend a crowded gathering where people are eating and drinking without masks. You can catch Covid outside if you're gathered in a place with partitions or ceilings that obstruct air circulation. You can catch Covid outside during a conversation.

Covid minimizers respond to facts with all kinds of emotional whataboutisms. They say things like, "Kids can't go to parties anymore?"

No, not like before.

If you want to protect yourself and your family, just going outside isn't enough. You have to pay attention to air circulation. You have to make sure people don't pack together under covered areas. You should probably still insist on masks and tests. You probably can't sit dozens of people together at a picnic table and assume they're all safe, especially during a wave.

Instead of acting dismissive around concerned parents for being buzzkills, or assuming sick, tired moms are wrong when they report inconvenient facts, it would be nice if people looked at the information.

Can you catch Covid outside?

Yes, you can.

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