Federal public health officials worked to remind Americans who celebrated Memorial Day weekend of the importance of maintaining social distance on Sunday, emphasizing that although the coronavirus crisis seems to improve gradually many are still at risk of infection in many regions of the United States.
“Now that the country is starting to open this holiday weekend, I remind everyone once again that the coronavirus is not yet limited”, Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted. “It is up to each individual to protect himself and his community. Social distance, washing hands and wearing masks protect us all. ”
And further ABC’s This week, Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus response coordinator, also stressed the need to keep space between people, even outdoors.
“Social distance is absolutely crucial, and if you can’t keep social distance and you are outside, you have to wear a mask,” said Birx. These are items critical to protecting individuals. We have learned a lot about this virus, but we now have to learn to translate that into really changed behavior that stays with us so that we can continue to reduce the number of cases. ”
The memories came as the death toll of the US Covid-19 approached 100,000 – and like reports and photos circulate online and display large crowds on beaches and other vacation spots, some of which are closed off.
With outdoor recreation areas like beaches and parks that draw large crowds across the U.S., ideal social distance isn’t always possible. Video went viral Sunday from a packed pool in Missouri, and there were reports of long lines and crowds the Jersey Shore, water parks in Texas, and beaches in Florida.
“This is undoubtedly one of the busiest weekends I’ve seen in many years,” Andrew Volridge, Deputy Head of Volusia County Beach told the Daytona Beach News Journal, in Florida. “We have a 75-kilometer beach in Volusia County and every part of it is busy.”
In many photos and videos it is unclear how close strangers are to each other, but in some images it is clear that there are less than two meters between strangers and that people do not wear masks.
This worries us, not because going out is inherently unsafe, or because pools and beaches are dangerous spaces, but because crowds offer unique opportunities for infection. As Vox’s German Lopez has explained, there are a number of ways to stay out – the main ones that Birx and Hahn emphasized: wearing masks and staying far from others. But:
The risk here is close and long-term contact. A jogger who walks through you for a few seconds is not the end of the world. But if you’re taller than six feet from someone else – especially for hours – it can be dangerous.
“The two variables we’re concerned about are the distance from another person who may be sick and the time spent with them,” Crystal Watson, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me.
This also applies to the outdoors. While the outside air is generally safer than the indoor space, it’s a good idea to avoid busy parks or beaches. People who do not live together should not be stacked on top of each other in any environment.
So if you are eating out, consider skipping the packed restaurant. If you’re going to a park or beach, find an area without too many people around.
Birx was asked about these images of busy areas on Sunday Meet the press, saying there are ways “to be social, yet far away.” She also emphasized, “This will only work if we all follow the guidelines and protect each other.”
And following those guidelines – staying 6 feet apart and wearing masks – limits the kind of long-term contact experts say is dangerous. By doing that, those hoping to enjoy a holiday weekend can do so while minimizing the risk of becoming infected or infecting others.