Epidemiologists reveal COVID-19 concerns about human behavior

Epidemiologists reveal COVID-19 concerns about human behavior
John Roach
·4 min read

The New York Times this week published the results of a survey in which 511 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists were asked about "when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect."

The Times noted that the answers are not guidelines for the public, but rather represent the respondents' own circumstances, risk tolerance and expectations about when there will be widespread testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccination for COVID-19.

The respondents "mostly agreed that outdoor activities and small groups were safer than being indoors or in a crowd," and that masks would be necessary for a long time. "Fresh air, sun, socialization and a healthy activity will be just as important for my mental health as my physical well-being," said Anala Gossai, a scientist at Flatiron Health, a health technology firm.

The outdoors holds a special appeal in a time of isolation and social distancing, considering the physical and mental benefits of being outside. "When it's nice outside and we are able to get out and involve ourselves in physical exercise, that's good for our bodies as well as our minds," said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers.

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (NIAID/National Institutes of Health via AP)

Experts say the weather indoors could be a factor in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19. In mid-May, AccuWeather explored the possibility air conditioners could be spreading the coronavirus. Air quality expert Dr. William Bahnfleth of Penn State University said there may not be a simple answer to the question, but poor ventilation may play an important role in increased transmission.

"The outside air is brought into buildings to dilute contaminants that are generated inside the building," Bahnfleth told AccuWeather. If there is no ventilation, then concentration levels of any contagions present in the air "will just keep building up to some point, and we've seen cases where ventilation rates were documented to be low and there were a lot of infections."

Dr. Myers continues to stress that key point. "The more ventilation there is, the more you disperse whatever virus there is in the air," he said. "The more you mix the air, the less the concentration. And it may be that the concentration is critical.

"Air circulation is key. It is healthy to air out your home," he added. His view is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends increasing a home's ventilation by opening windows to keep your home safe at this time.

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"People may be afraid that the germs are going to come in," Myers said. "The chance of significant virus coming in your window to harm you - if there are not people right outside your window - is infinitesimal. But you are going to get fresh air and it is healthier because if you are in your home cooped up, the air is stale and dirtier."

Indoors or outdoors, some of the epidemiologists in The New York Times survey said they would refrain from nearly all of the 20 activities listed until a vaccine for the virus had been widely distributed. Others said they would wait for a vaccine to take part in the indoor activities on the list.

Among the outdoor-related activities covered in The New York Times survey were questions about hiking or picnicking outdoors with friends, and another about the likelihood of attending a sporting event, concert or play. The respondents were more likely to go hiking/picnicking in the next three to 12 months (41 percent). Attending an event, concert or play was widely dismissed, with 64 percent of the respondents saying it would be a year or more before they would do so.

Many respondents even said they may never greet people the same way; 42 percent said they would not hug or shake hands for more than a year. However, that percentage may be skewed by the audience answering the question.

For example, T. Christopher Bond of Bristol Myers Squibb replied, "Real epidemiologists don't shake hands."

AccuWeather writer Mark Puleo contributed to this story.

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