I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor and Here's the Worst Thing You Can Do
For the last six months, health experts have been attempting to drill important coronavirus prevention measures into our heads: wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance from others. All of these are evidence-based strategies that will help reduce our personal risk of acquiring COVID-19 and reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to others, even if we don't have symptoms ourselves.
The majority of the country was diligently following these recommendations for months, causing the coronavirus curve to flatten. However, over the past week, as many states are well into the reopening process, COVID-19 cases are now rising in 22 states, with many seeing the biggest spikes thus far into the pandemic. According to data, this is due to not only the reopening of businesses, including movie theaters, bars, restaurants, and malls, but increased mobility and expanded testing. At this time in the pandemic trajectory, keeping yourself and others protected is of the ultimate importance. We asked one of the nation's top infectious disease doctors what the unsafest thing that anyone can do right now, and her response could save your life.
The Least Safe Thing to Do Is…
"The least safe thing to be doing right now is to abandon your mask in that indoor crowded space," Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and assistant professor at the medical school, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. "While cloth face coverings will not protect you completely from being exposed to COVID-19, they are an important barrier protection to prevent you from transmitting the disease to others. So if everyone around you is wearing a mask, you are that much safer."
Unfortunately, she points out that many people are experiencing burnout, dropping their guard and taking off their masks when they shouldn't be. "We cannot afford to be lulled into complacency or think that this crisis is over and stop doing the things that we know will keep us safe and healthy," she points out. "It is still really important to practice safe behaviors."
Avoid Super Spreader Events
She is most concerned about potential "super spreader" type events—large congregations of people in an indoor space. "The epitome of this perfect storm of unsafety are crowded indoor spaces in places where people are abandoning masks and yelling despite rising cases in the community," she explains, mentioning the Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as an example.
"A signed waiver, required with ticket purchase to the event, will not keep you safe," Dr. Meyer points out. "This was not political—this was a public health emergency."
Dr. Meyer explains that she and other infectious disease experts are very worried that events like these will result in an uptick in cases over the following months, "not only among people attending the event, but also among people who they encounter when they return home to their communities," she says. "They also risk exposing frontline healthcare workers when they inevitably fall ill. The biggest risk of engaging in unsafe behaviors like this event is that people will unwittingly transmit the virus to people in their communities who are most vulnerable to severe infection—those who are older and with underlying health conditions." As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.