How To Have A Safe Coronavirus Summer in Cleveland
With temperatures rising in Northeast Ohio, people are anxious to start their summers. But the change in seasons doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.
We spoke to doctors from University Hospitals, MetroHealth and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine for some tips to staying safe while still having fun.
Keep in mind that there are lots of factors that contribute to risk levels in each situation, according to MetroHealth’s Dr. David Margolius. It’s always important to keep physical distance and wear masks when possible if you are around others.
North Chagrin Reservation in Willoughby Hills. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
Good news: If you want to leave your house, being outside is one of the safest places to be, said University Hospitals Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Amy Edwards.
“Get outside and relieve some of this stress and anxiety that’s built up over all these months of quarantine,” she said. “What I want is for people to get out of their house and enjoy life. We just have to do it in such a way that you’re not all ending up in the hospital visiting me.”
She said the risk of getting exposed outdoors is low because even a slight breeze will quickly disperse the virus.
Viral load, or the amount of viral particles you’re exposed to, is important in exposure. She said doctors don’t currently know the viral load necessary for a person to become infected with COVID-19, but she said getting a few viral particles in your mouth or nose is unlikely to get you sick. So, since viral particles are quickly diluted outside by wind and air, being outside is a low-risk activity.
However, be aware of how many people are around you. If an area is too crowded, your risk goes up, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cleveland Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman said they are monitoring popular parks to ensure areas don’t get too crowded.
“We’ve had areas like Brecksville Reservation that we have closed internal roads, we have a section in Rocky River where we have closed a section of road, we had closed a number of parking lots and other things along the way because of trying to limit the amount of people,” he said. “There’s only so much each park reservation can handle.”
He said with many other activities closed, Cleveland Metroparks has seen visitation increase about 130 percent over the last few months.
He recommends going early in the morning if your park is busy, or exploring one of their other parks that might not have as many people on the trails.
Getting Together With Friends and Extended Family
When expanding your social circles, MetroHealth’s Dr. David Margolius says to remember these tips: Outside is better than inside, 6 feet away is better than 3 feet away and wearing a mask is better than no mask.
“It’s low risk if the group that they’re spending time with is a consistent group of people, small group of people,” he said.
For example, walking with the same friend every Friday is better than walking with a different friend every Friday.
His personal experience is that he started letting his kids play with the family across the street outside every day, even though he says kids have no concept of physical distance.
Margolius says he feels safe knowing the neighbor family is also taking social distancing guidelines seriously.
“But (the odds of infection) are higher than if we just stayed inside or just spent time with our own family, but it’s becoming these calculated risks of slightly increasing the odds to maintain our emotional well-being,” Margolius said.
Dr. Amy Edwards also recommends small groups. Her advice is to meet outdoors and don’t shake hands or hug.
If you’re with someone outside of your close family, you may want to wear a mask, but if your activity level is high, she says you may want to not wear one to avoid difficulty breathing.
Edgewater Beach is often empty early in the morning. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
The CDC says there’s no evidence that the virus can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas.
University Hospitals’ Dr. Amy Edwards says the level of chlorine in pools will definitely kill the virus.
“I absolutely recommend going swimming,” Edwards said. “The pool water should be very safe.”
She said chlorine levels are maintained to kill stomach bugs like E. coli, which are much stronger than respiratory viruses like the coronavirus.
The risk level of swimming depends on how many other people are enjoying the same activity, so crowded pools and beaches are more dangerous.
Cleveland Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman said many municipalities are choosing to not open pools because of social distancing guidelines and logistical restrictions.
“Capacity limits, staffing limits, staffing challenges, all become a huge challenge. Most pools would have had to have been up and filled long before the governor made his announcement that pools could open,” Zimmerman said. “It didn’t allow for many municipalities to pivot with enough time to actually get pools filled.”
He said for many cities that are already seeing budget restrictions due to the pandemic, it’s not economically feasible to open pools this year.
If the pool near you is closed, it’s still possible to have a low-risk swim in open water like Lake Erie.
MetroHealth’s Dr. David Margolius said swimming in fresh or salt water is safe, because while there is some evidence that the virus can briefly live in water, there isn’t any evidence that once it’s in water, it can cause infection.
In large bodies of water, including swimming pools, Margolius said the virus is quickly diluted.
The CDC says wearing a face covering on a beach or while laying out by the pool is most essential when physical distancing is difficult. But it says do not wear face coverings in the water, because it could be difficult to breathe if it gets wet.
Indoor pools are not necessarily a higher risk either, Margolius said. He said a crowded outdoor pool in the summer could be a higher risk than a less populated indoor pool.
Dr. Amy Edwards says boating is about as safe as you can get, if you’re with your close family.
“You’re just getting in your own boat and driving around on the lake, that’s about as socially distanced as you can get and still have a great time,” she said.
People kayak on the Cuyahoga River. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
Kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding is really safe, according to Dr. Margolius.
It’s completely safe if you’re alone and low risk if you’re with others, especially if it’s the consistent group you’ve been spending time with all summer.
The risk goes up if the waterways are crowded, but Margolius said he can’t imagine waterways in Cleveland, like the Cuyahoga River, becoming so crowded that you would be within 6 feet of another person.
Exercising outdoors is preferable, Margolius said. But what activity you are doing determines the risk level.
He says he really wants to play volleyball at Whiskey Island, but it’s high risk to be in close contact with so many people.
Margolius says there are some outdoor sports that would allow you to keep your distance, like golf and tennis, but he said this is why COVID-19 has the potential to continue to disproportionately affect people with lower socioeconomic status who don’t have access to higher cost but lower-risk sports like tennis, golf and water sports like kayaking and canoeing.
Dr. Amy Edwards agrees. She says this will be a hard summer for people who don’t have money, because there are things that are opening, but they often cost money.
Free activities like walking and running aren’t always accessible to everyone.
“It’s going to be a lot harder for them to just strap on a pair of shoes and go for a walk to get out of the house because they might be afraid of violence, or there might not be anywhere safe (to walk) if they don’t have any sidewalks,” Edwards said. “Maybe they don’t live close to a Metropark, or if they do it might be a small park that’s crowded.”
Dr. Margolius said if you do exercise indoors, there are ways gyms can make it safer, by keeping customers 6 feet apart and making sure equipment is cleaned frequently, but as always, outside is better than inside.
Outside the Cleveland Museum of Art [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Museum of Art are planning to open this month.
Even though this breaks Dr. Margolius’ outdoor > indoor rule, he says going to an uncrowded museum is a low-risk activity.
“Specifically the Cleveland Museum of Art, it’s perfectly designed to allow people to enjoy the art, enjoy the time, 6 feet from others,” he said.
Dr. Amy Edwards agrees that most museums should be safe as long as they monitor how many people are in the building so it doesn’t get too crowded.
“Museums are all about not touching things anyways, you’re not exactly supposed to touch the 300-year-old painting on the wall,” she said.
But Edwards said she does except an issue at places like the Children’s Museum of Cleveland and the Great Lakes Science Center, because the exhibits are very interactive and hands on.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
The zoo will reopen June 17, and Dr. Margolius thinks this would be a great low-risk activity as long as it’s not too crowded.
“It is pretty spaced out; you can walk through the zoo and maintain your distance from people pretty easily, because it’s such a big, beautiful space,” he said.
Dr. Edwards said the zoo should be careful about some of their shows and the food court, but as long as crowds don’t get too big it should be low-risk since it’s outside.
Since you’re unlikely to be within 6 feet of someone while you’re gardening or mowing, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Dr. Scott Frank said this is pretty low risk, and there’s no need to wear a face mask.
“The purpose of the fabric face mask is to protect others from you,” he said.
So while working outside, you can breathe easy knowing that your risk of catching COVID-19 is relatively low.
A wedding takes place in Upper Edgewater Park. [Katherine Murray Photography]
Summer means it’s wedding season, but is it safe to have a wedding or go to one?
Dr. David Margolius said this is a pretty high-risk activity, but there are some ways to decrease the risk, and you can follow his initial guidelines: Outdoors is better than indoors, 6 feet apart is better than 3 feet apart and masks are better than no masks, although Margolius said obviously people can’t wear masks while eating during the reception.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines for large events, including weddings. It recommends limiting the number of attendees to 250 people, and paying close attention to the density of guests in a confined area.
Many weddings have already been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, but Dr. Amy Edwards said if you’re still having your event, try to keep the guest list down.
“The first thing to think about is the safety of your guests,” she said. “You have to think about, what would it feel like three weeks from now to realize twelve people are in the hospital and somebody died because they came to your wedding?”
If you were invited to a wedding, the CDC says older adults and people with severe pre-existing conditions are at an increased risk for serious illnesses if they contract COVID-19, so it might be best to not attend if you think your health could be at risk.
But Margolius said the decision to decline a wedding invitation is a personal one, and each person should make their own decision.
And Edwards urges the engaged couple to have empathy for people making the difficult decision to not attend. She says people don’t always share their health condition, so it’s best to be gracious if you receive more declines than you expected.
And expect some last-minute cancellations, because she said if people feel sick at all before the wedding, they absolutely should not attend.
Margolius said there’s also another factor that would make a wedding higher risk for spreading the coronavirus: alcohol.
“If you have a large group, and there’s alcohol, people are going to be just less conscientious of those 6-foot boundaries I think,” he said.
Ohio is well known for its amusement parks like Cedar Point and Kings Island, and for many families, it’s not summer without them.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday that amusement parks can reopen June 19, but Dr. Amy Edwards said she would skip this year.
“I just don’t know if that’s a good idea,” she said. “What do you do when the roller coaster goes down that hill? You scream. Screaming just excretes massive amounts of droplets and it’s all streaming behind you, to the people behind you.”
Margolius said amusement parks would have to change their practices in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
“My last memories of Cedar Point are that it’s a pretty crowded place, with people shoulder-to-shoulder waiting in long lines for really high roller coasters, so if they can figure out a way to space out those lines and do everything they can to keep people 6 feet apart and wearing masks, then there is a potential low-to-medium risk scenario,” he said. “But if they were to return to business as usual, then it would be really dangerous.”
He says the concept is the same in health care, where they can’t ever go back to crowded waiting rooms.
Dr. David Margolius said eating on a patio with properly distanced tables and masked servers is fairly safe, although take-out is the safest option if you want to support a restaurant and limit the virus’ spread.
He says when it comes to eating inside a restaurant, he has seen articles that cite air conditioning as a potential threat of circulating the virus. But he worries less about air conditioning, and more about close contact with people.
“I think with viruses that are transmitted through droplets (like coronavirus), the biggest concern is being unmasked, face-to-face with someone greater than 15 minutes,” he said. “I worry a lot less about air conditioning and surfaces. There’s risk there, but it’s so much lower than the face-to-face, unmasked or within 6 feet of people.”
Dr. Edwards said she would have no problem eating inside a restaurant, as long as they properly distance the customers and servers are masked.