How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 at Social Events

Covid-19 social events

Is SARS-CoV-2 over or should we continue to protect ourselves?

Watching the football game this past weekend I noticed that life is getting back to some semblance of order. The game was packed and although I saw some masks in the crowd, there were just as many individuals not wearing masks. I was surprised to see the majority of people who were not being pre-cautionary in large crowd settings. Like most people, it feels good to be active this season but with all of the SARS-CoV-2 variants and subvariants that are popping up, I am continuing to take precautions and to be informed.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) still recommends prevention strategies for crowds and busy settings and continues to encourage vaccinations, boosters, the use of PPE (personal protection equipment), physical distancing, and screening testing for individuals who feel sick or who have been exposed. Although preventative actions are still the best way to stay safe, many Americans are abandoning safety precautions and are going about their lives as if COVID-19 is not a real thing.

Recently the CDC (Center for Disease Control) announced an update on COVID-19 recommendations, indicating an easing up on precautions and a return to normal. Although this may be a welcome change for many of us, it is important to be aware that the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 is still a very real threat. Throughout the world (including inside the US) we continue to see the virus mutate and change. Some of these changes are resulting in more transmittable and often more threatening variants like Omicron.

Omicron. This variant spreads more easily than the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the delta variant. However, omicron appears to cause less severe disease. People who are fully vaccinated can get breakthrough infections and spread the virus to others. But the COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness. This variant also reduces the effectiveness of some monoclonal antibody treatments. Omicron has a few major offshoots (sub lineages), including BA.5 and BA.2.12.1. BA.5 made up about 88% of COVID-19 infections that had genetic sequencing in the U.S. in” August 2022, according to the CDC.”

COVID Infection rates should continue to be a priority for us all

Due to these outbreaks and new variant cases of COVID, we are also seeing waves of infections arise after large events like movies, sporting events, theatres, and schools. The infection rates are not just a concern for the spectators in this situation. Athletes, actors, theatre staff, movie staff, and even staff in social settings like restaurants, bars, and venues for celebrations continue to be at a higher risk. Due to this, the CDC is still recommending social distancing guidelines in particular settings

While most of us have already returned to work and school following the precautions set in place by employers and school administrations. Organizers of social gatherings and activities are often leaving it up to individuals to determine if the benefits of the activity outweigh the risks. This leaves us reliant on another person’s judgement for our health and safety – which is a little unnerving and ultimately at a higher risk for infection. Therefore, it is important to maintain our health and to be diligent when determining what environments are safe, including when local COVID-19 community levels are high, or exposure has taken place. It is also key to continue to stay updated on new developments on the virus along with what precautions can be taken to protect ourselves. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you consider being active and involved in things outside of home and work.

Understanding the community you will be a part of and the current risks to your health.

First, it is important to consider the current community infection rate. New variants and outbreaks are popping up daily, including some that are more contagious and can spread faster like V b.4 and B.5. To further complicate the issue, group events are resuming without mask mandates or precautions to prevent the spread. We are seeing some infection spikes after big events like concerts, sporting events, or certain celebrations like weddings, funerals, school activities, and more. Even though it is easy to see the connection between the infection rate in a certain area and a specific event, it is no longer stopping anyone from attending. I am finding that within days following these larger gatherings, infection rates soar. I am also noticing that fewer agencies including the news are discussing or even acknowledging the risk and the outcomes of currently contracting COVID-19.

The view that the COVID pandemic is not over is not a popular one, however, we must continue to consider the current levels of COVID-19 infection in the communities we live and in activities we participate. For communities that have had a recent outbreak or an event where it is likely to be around someone who may have contracted the virus, it is obvious that deciding to wear an N95 mask to protect yourself or even better stay away from these large gatherings can be the key to keeping yourself and your family safe.

Know what your current health and medical circumstances are and make decisions accordingly.

The easiest way to not contract COVID-19 is to stay away from people that have it. There are new boosters available that target different variants including Omicron B.4 & B.5 variants and other current strains circulating now. As more data and research continue to be collected it is becoming increasingly clear that protection from contracting SARS-CoV-2 is truly in the education and protection that is available to individuals.

Continued Safety Considerations

  • The CDC recommendation calls for the use of a high-quality mask or respirator (NIOSH approved N95 Mask) when indoors or in public when the community levels are medium or high.
  • Consider your risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19. If you are older, immunocompromised, have certain underlying health conditions, or you live with someone who fits any of these categories, it is recommended that you protect yourself by wearing an N95-NIOSH-approved mask, even in situations where masks are optional. Further, you should avoid large gatherings inside or in places with poor ventilation.

  • Consider how inconvenient isolation would be: If you have an upcoming vacation, your child has a sports tournament, performance, or AP exams happening soon, or you have a wedding or other event to attend, social distancing in the weeks before these events can help reduce the odds you’ll have to cancel and isolate due to infection.

The CDC has a list of different risk groups that they continue to recommend wearing a mask including:

  • People at higher risk of severe illness (immunocompromised)
  • The Elderly
  • People with certain medical conditions
  • Pregnant or recently pregnant people
  • Children
  • People with disabilities
  • People traveling
  • Anyone who lives with someone meets the above criteria.

Once you have evaluated your situation and the risk of venturing into public spaces, there are basic guidelines that may help you to protect yourself and your family further.

Protecting yourself from COVID at Theatres

The SARS-CoV Disease (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is still a serious threat to attending activities such as theatre and movies. Some have been resuming their travel schedules and taking part in shows in L.A., Chicago, and New York, while others are not able or willing to travel to these destinations. Instead, they are choosing to take part in local and regional theaters. Although theatres are still struggling to recover to pre-pandemic status, people are still choosing to attend while increasing their risk of infection. Some productions have been canceled due to numerous factors including higher-priced tickets, fewer opportunities, and shows or postponements due to outbreaks and sick staff. Because of these issues, some of the shows and small theatres are closing or postponing yet again. There are still theatres open, and performers are still taking the stage. Leaving audiences, actors, and even theatre staff and volunteers more susceptible to infection. Many of these theatres and social events are not mandating masks anymore. This is having some consequences for many distinct groups involved.

COVID-19 and its variant’s effect on Theatres

  • The Broadway League, which represents Broadway’s 41 theaters, made masks optional for audiences beginning July 1, 2022. Although this may seem like a step in the right direction casts and crews of these shows have begun to speak up, pleading with audiences to think about the performers and help protect them

by wearing masks. However, this has not been heard and many are getting sick.

  • The New York Times reported that Hugh Jackman, starring in “The Music Man,” has contracted COVID-19 twice, disappointing theatergoers who paid an average of $283 to see him perform. Instead, disappointed fans saw Jackman’s understudy, Max Clayton. In mid-June, half the Broadway cast of Tracy Letts’ limited-run, critically acclaimed play, “The Minutes,” were out sick to name only a couple of the many stories of the pandemics’ wide reach and influence on our social events

Off-Broadway, live theaters all over the country follow a variety of local ordinances, as well as guidelines set by regional theater associations, performing arts unions, or their leadership. Below is a sampling of audience requirements around the country, as of July 7, 2022, including:

  • Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago continues to follow the recommendations of a coalition of 60 theaters in the city and surrounding suburbs, requiring masks along with proof of vaccination or a negative antigen or PCR test.
  • The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles also continues to require masks and proof of vaccination or testing, despite the elimination of city and state COVID ordinances. It goes a step further and requires high-quality masks, specifying medical/surgical N95 respirators.
  • The Oregon Cabaret Theater in Ashland, Oregon, stopped requiring masks and vaccinations effective April 21, 2022. From July 6 through 13, the company had to pause its production of “The Full Monty” when several members of the cast contracted COVID.
  • The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, which hosts touring Broadway shows, has made masks optional and only requires proof of vaccination for staff and volunteers.

Because many viewers are not choosing to wear masks during productions, we are further putting our theatre and the arts at risk. As shows continue to cancel due to new variants and group infections, many productions are relying heavily on substitutes and understudies. To further complicate the situation due to shortages and light audiences the average ticket price for shows, is on the rise. For example, the average Broadway show ticket cost is hovering at $200+ per ticket. The best seats for some of the hottest shows can be sold for as much as $700. When mask wearing is not required, choosing to wear a mask when seeing a live theater will help keep the stage lights on and protect your ticket investment!

Also wearing a face mask is not just about the viewer’s/spectators’ safety. Committing to wearing a face respirator or N95 mask will help protect the performers, stage crew, theatre staff & volunteers.

Protecting yourself from COVID at sporting events

If you are like most Americans, your spectator sports have been impacted significantly by the COVID pandemic. Further complicating things there has not been just one approach to sporting protection. Instead, a variety of guidelines and /or mandates are aimed at protecting both spectators and athletes alike.

These guidelines for professional, collegiate and high school sporting events reflect a wide range of social distancing recommendations. In general, school sports are more likely to ask spectators to wear masks or continue social distancing guidelines. Whereas professional leagues tend to be leaning toward more personal preferences. Outdoor venues are typically safer and have a more relaxed approach.

Previously professional leagues canceled all spectator events and printed fan pictures for seating during the first year of the pandemic. This year leagues are currently enforcing protocols for players and staff only. Spectators’ guidelines have almost all been dropped or at least eased up and are leaving safety precautions up to the stadium or municipality.

Some Examples of this Include:

  • The National Basketball League (NBA) announced that only unvaccinated basketball players need to test for COVID-19 weekly, along with anyone exhibiting symptoms this fall
  • The National Football League (NFL) dropped all COVID-19 protocols in advance of the 2022-2023 season if football teams comply with local mandates.
  • Minor League Baseball (MLB) dropped regular COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic baseball players and staff for its 2022 season. Personnel is no longer required to wear masks unless required locally.

Colleges and high schools are consistently applying the same or similar guidelines for sporting events as they are to the other spaces on campus. These venues seem to be a little more cautious and encourage fans to take precautions to protect one another and the athletes.

Examples Include:

  • Northwestern University and the University of Michigan have announced for the 2022-2023 school year that masking is strongly recommended in indoor spaces where maintaining social distancing is difficult.
  • The University of Notre Dame has made masks optional
  • Arizona State University recommends masks in counties with an elevated level of COVID-19 transmission.

When deciding how to protect yourself at a professional sporting event consider how feasible it is to social distance in the venue, and bring an N95 mask with you so you can wear it if social distancing isn’t possible at your seat or while you move around the stadium.

Protecting yourself from COVID at Weddings, Parties, and Other Celebrations

An estimated 2.6 million weddings are planned for 2022, beating the pre-COVID average of 2.2 million weddings per year, as couples who delayed their nuptials or had small private ceremonies are now ready to celebrate with friends and family. Event planners say that all kinds of celebrations, from bar mitzvahs to fundraisers are getting back to normal this year and demand is higher than normal.

Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan, told National Public Radio that when you attend a function, you have to assume that there may be people there that are infected with COVID-19, whether they know it or not. Before you RSVP, consider the factors listed earlier in this article — such as local transmission rates and your risk — when making decisions on how to protect yourself.

If you are concerned, talk to the hosts or event organizers ahead of time. Some questions you can ask:

  • Will they be recommending providing masks
  • How well the current venue accommodates social distancing
  • Will vaccination status be checked?

Basic Guidelines to set for yourself to protect your health

If you choose to wear your N95 mask during parts or all of a social event, consider setting some rules for yourself about how you will handle it if you are in the minority of people masking. Then, stick with your decisions, even if you feel out of place.

  • Where do you stand on taking your mask off to eat and drink?
  • Will you avoid eating or drinking while mingling, but remove the mask if you feel comfortable that others at your table share your level of COVID caution?
  • If you realize you are the only one or one of the few people masked, will you have responses in mind for people who say something to you about your choice?
  • Will you keep your mask on even if it seems that no one else is wearing one?
  • If you are traveling to attend the event, will you bring rapid tests with you to use before the event or at a specific interval after?
  • Will you socially distance yourself from co-workers, family members, or others at high risk after the event?

Breathe Easy

High-quality masks don’t have to be uncomfortable distractions from social events. Alliant Biotech sells a strapless N95 mask that’s effective, comfortable, and breathable. The gentle, self-adhesive design keeps glasses from fogging up so you can see every moment of the show, game, or event. It also eliminates pressure on your ears, and the slim design makes it easy to tuck into a small purse or pocket.,mask%20when%20indoors%20with%20them.