Before you go out, an easy way to approach your decisions may come from your old English grammar lessons about nouns: Think about the person, the place and the thing.
The person: who will you be around and for how long?
“Infectivity is likely a function of how sick the person is that's in front of you as well as the length of time that you are exposed to that person,” said Dr. Ray Firszt, an Allergist and Immunologist at the Tanner Clinic in Murray.
Firszt says that a person who is not sick or has yet to develop symptoms may still pass the virus on, especially under the right conditions.
“If you have a long conversation with that person or are around them and the person is singing or at a sporting event screaming, then the virus can get released and over a longer period of time you can get an infection,” Firszt said.
The place: A number of research studies have focused on the location of infections, finding they are most often indoors involving close or extended contact.
“So certainly indoors situations are likely worse versus outdoor situations where the particles are dispersed throughout the air,” said Firszt.
If you are thinking about a family gathering, consider something outdoors, where you can spread out and where the virus can disperse more easily.
Also, in any situation, be aware of those who may be particularly vulnerable, whether it’s an older person or someone with immune-compromising conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease to name a few.
The thing: The virus itself is a dangerous thing we need to respect. Talking with two doctors for this story (I also spoke with epidemiologist Jay Jacobson, Professor Emeritus from the University of Utah), both stressed the importance of acknowledging what we don’t know. We don’t know all of the impacts of the virus. We know it can spread through the air and are less sure about other forms of infection like contact with surfaces. We don’t know why certain people display certain symptoms. We don’t know the efficacy of antibodies in those who have already had the disease. It’s an endless list.
With that in mind, both say they understand why it’s frustrating to people when advice changes, but they believe that it’s becoming more certain that face masks are an important intervention.
“What I’ve been telling my patients is if you are around someone for more than five or ten minutes of conversation, pretty close together, you should probably be at least wearing a mask because the longer the time, the more likely you are to catch if the other person is sick even if they are asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic,” Firszt said.