Protecting ourselves from transmissible virus infections
Watching the football game this past weekend, I noticed that life is returning 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 most people who were not 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 sub-variants, influenza(flu) virus, and common cold infections, the RSV virus rates are on the rise. I continue to take precautions and be informed, and you should also.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) still recommends prevention strategies for crowds and busy settings. It continues to encourage vaccinations, boosters, PPE (personal protection equipment), physical distancing, and screening testing for individuals who feel sick or have been exposed. Although preventative actions are still the best way to stay safe, many Americans are abandoning safety precautions and going about their lives as if COVID-19 is inaccurate.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recently announced an update on COVID-19 recommendations, including easing up on precautions and returning to normal. Although this may be a welcome change for many of us, knowing that the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 is still a real threat is essential. We continue to see the virus mutate and change worldwide (including inside the US). Some of these changes result 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. Fully vaccinated people 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 with genetic sequencing in the U.S. in” August 2022, according to the CDC.”
Staying healthy and safe from infections should remain a priority as infections can vary from minor inconveniences like missing work to more significant disruptions like hospitalization and long-term effects of illness.
Infection rates of COVID, RSV, and other transmissible viruses continue to concern us all.
Due to these new COVID outbreaks and variant cases of COVID, the rise in RSV cases, and the common cold and influenza outbreaks, we should still be concerned with protecting ourselves and PPE(personal protection equipment) use. We also see waves of infections arise after significant 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 celebration venues continue to be at a higher risk. Due to this, the CDC is still recommending social distancing guidelines in particular settings and mask-wearing to protect oneself.
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 often leave it up to individuals to determine if the benefits of the activity outweigh the risks. This leaves us reliant on another person’s judgment for our health and safety – which is a little unnerving and ultimately at a higher risk for infection. Therefore, it is essential to maintain our health and be diligent when determining what environments are safe, including when local COVID-19 community levels are high, or exposure has occurred. It is also crucial to stay updated on new developments on the virus and what precautions can be taken to protect ourselves. Here are a few suggestions to remember as you consider being active and involved in things outside of home and work.
Understanding the current risks of virus infections in your communities
First, it is essential to consider the current community infection rates. 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. RSV virus has been at an all-time high this season, and every year we see thousand die from the flu and common colds. To further complicate the issue, group events are resuming without mask mandates or precautions to prevent the spread. We see some infection spikes after significant events like concerts, sporting events, or celebrations like weddings, funerals, school activities, and more. Even though it is easy to see the connection between the infection rate in a particular area and a specific event, it no longer stops anyone from attending. I am finding that infection rates soar within days following these larger gatherings. I am also noticing that fewer agencies, including the news, are discussing or acknowledging the risk and outcomes of contracting COVID-19.
The view that the COVID pandemic is not over is not popular. 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 evident 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.
Your current health should guide your virus precautions.
The easiest way to avoid contracting a virus like the flu, RSV, COVID-19, or the common cold, to name a few, is to prevent people with it. New boosters are available that target different COVID variants, including Omicron B.4 & B.5 variants and current current current strains. As more data and research continue to be collected, it is becoming increasingly clear that protection from contracting SARS-CoV-2 is genuinely in the education and protection available to individuals. There are flu vaccinations that help limit your risk. However, the risk of infection is still there, and there is no vaccination for RSV, colds, and other transmittable diseases that can wreak havoc!
Daily Safety Considerations
- The CDC recommends using a high-quality mask or respirator (NIOSH-approved N95 Mask) indoors or in public when community infection levels are medium or high.
- Consider your risk of contracting an illness. If you are older, immunocompromised, have certain underlying health conditions, or 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, avoiding large gatherings inside or in places with poor ventilation would be best. Protecting yourself and your loved ones should be a priority as we look at transmittable viruses like COVID-19 and RSV.
- 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 any infection.
Who should be wearing a PPE/face mask
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
- 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, basic guidelines may help you further protect yourself and your family.
Protecting yourself from contracting a virus in social settings
The SARS-CoV Disease (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and other viral infections will continue to threaten our health and well-being seriously, and knowing when to wear a mask is necessary. It is essential to remain vigilant in our safety precautions. People attend activities such as theatre and movies. Some have been resuming their travel schedules and participating in shows in L.A., Chicago, and New York, while others are unable or willing to travel to these destinations. Instead, they are choosing to take part in local and regional theaters. Although theatres struggle to recover to pre-pandemic status, people still choose 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 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 has some consequences for many distinct groups involved.
COVID-19 and its variant’s effect on theatres
- The Broadway League, representing 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 started 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 few of the many stories of the pandemics’ broad reach and influence on our social events.
Off-Broadway, live theaters nationwide follow various local ordinances and 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 and 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 further 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 cast members contracted COVID.
- The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina 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 risking our theatre and the arts. As shows continue to cancel due to new variants and group infections, many productions rely heavily on substitutes and understudies. To further complicate the situation, the average ticket price for shows is rising due to shortages and light audiences. For example, the average Broadway show cost is $200+ per ticket. The best seats for the hottest shows can be sold for as much as $700. When mask-wearing is not required, wearing 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. Wearing a face respirator or N95 mask will help protect the performers, stage crew, theatre staff & volunteers.
Protecting yourself from virus infections 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, various guidelines and mandates aim to protect spectators and athletes alike.
These guidelines for professional, collegiate and high school sporting events reflect various social distancing recommendations. School sports tend to ask spectators to wear masks or continue social distancing guidelines. At the same time, 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, 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
- If football teams comply with local mandates, the National Football League (NFL) will drop all COVID-19 protocols before the 2022-2023 season.
- 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 needed 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.
- 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 shows 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. Bring an N95 mask with you if social distancing isn’t possible at your seat or while you move around the stadium.
Protecting yourself from contracting a virus 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 yearly weddings. 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, have returned to normal this year, and demand is higher than usual. Because we seem to be making up for a lost time, we must be vigilant in protecting ourselves from infections.
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 deciding how to protect yourself.
If you are concerned, talk to the hosts or event organizers beforehand. 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 follow to protect your health
If you wear your N95 mask during parts or all of a social event, consider setting some rules about handling 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 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 easily in a face mask.
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.