Bars, Cars, and Other COVID Hotspots
Administrator Account
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2020

Bars, Cars, and Other COVID Hotspots

We are used to thinking of COVID hotpots as areas of the country that are experiencing uncontrolled outbreaks. They are the states and counties that are all lit up in red and yellow on the evening news. What if we applied that same “hotspot” idea to our neighborhoods or activities? Which places would it be best to avoid?

Bars and Restaurants.  Bars and restaurants are tough places to follow COVID restrictions. The reason for being there is to eat and drink, which means all of the patrons will likely have their masks down for most of the time. On top of that, alcohol limits inhibitions and lessens people’s perception of risks. Just as people who have been drinking are more likely to get themselves in trouble, they are more likely to disregard important precautions. Finally, loud music and others talking makes it harder to hear, so people are more likely to stand close together.

If you feel you must dine and drink out, choose a restaurant that is abiding by the state’s guidance. There should be adequate room to distance, and employees must wear a mask. Patrons should remove masks only once they are seated. Socialize only with members of your household, and eat fast. The risk of transmission increases as time indoors increases.  

Cars. Riding in a car with people outside your household is a pretty high-risk activity, too. Cars offer such limited air space. If someone in the car is infected, there is nowhere for the virus to go, except into another passenger’s mouth. Avoid carpooling. If you must ride with someone from outside your household, wear masks and roll the windows down to the greatest extent possible.

Travel. Up until very recently, the vast majority of cases in Vermont were related to travel. Only one person in a group needs to have gone anywhere in order to infect others. If you are getting together with others, it is especially important to be sure that they have not spent time elsewhere within the last two weeks. Even if no one has, wear masks, stay outside, keep the visit brief, and stay 6 feet apart.

Weddings. Some of the largest outbreaks in our region have started at weddings. Weddings combine people who know each other well (and often have not seen each other in a long time) with travel, food, and drinks. Wedding guests sometimes share rides, too. It’s as if you took all the COVID hotspots and rolled them into one. Add to that a whole lot of “once in a lifetime” and “love is the most important thing,” and weddings are easily “the most likely place to catch COVID.” Even throwing a small wedding is not advised. As Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine often says, just because you can do something without going against recommendations doesn’t mean you should.

Home. Interestingly, our homes are both the safest places and the least safe. When we limit our exposure, our homes can be a place to take off our masks and relax a little. We can get as close as we like to those we love. But if a member of your household has become infected with COVID and doesn’t know it, the chances are super high that the other members of the household will get it too. In fact, upwards of 80 percent of spread happens in the home.

That’s why it’s super important to isolate members of the household who have been elsewhere lately, including college students returning home for the holidays. For 2 weeks (or 7 days with a negative COVID test), spend your time in separate rooms. Wear masks when in common areas within an hour of one another. Eat separately and use different bathrooms, if possible. And frequently disinfect objects both the traveler and non-travelers touch.

Perhaps surprisingly, primary and secondary schools do not seem to be major sources of outbreaks. People hear about cases when a member of their school community—a student, teacher, or staff member—tests positive. But school is not usually the source or a mode of further transmission. Our mitigation efforts appear to be working. Similarly, except in rare cases, we are not hearing about more than an isolated case or two coming out of any particular workplace. So going to work and to school would be green on our COVID map.   

Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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