A re­newed warn­ing about COVID-19 at sum­mer’s end

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY BRETT CHASE, STAFF RE­PORTER bchase@sun­times.com | @brettchase Brett Chase’s re­port­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic health is made pos­si­ble by a grant from The Chicago Com­mu­nity Trust.

A gath­er­ing of sev­eral fam­i­lies swim­ming and play­ing vol­ley­ball at a pri­vate in­land Lake County beach in late July led to 16 pos­i­tive cases of COVID-19.

It’s a star­tling re­minder of what health of­fi­cials have been warn­ing about for months: The virus can be trans­mit­ted out­side as well as in­doors, and chil­dren are at risk of in­fec­tion just like adults.

The peo­ple in­volved in the Lake County case ad­mit­ted to health of­fi­cials they weren’t al­ways wear­ing masks or so­cial dis­tanc­ing dur­ing their out­ing. Eleven of those in­fected were un­der age 18.

“Even out­doors, if you are in close prox­im­ity to peo­ple who don’t live in your house­hold, you’re tak­ing a risk,” said Lake County Health De­part­ment spokes­woman Han­nah Go­er­ing. “It is very im­por­tant to wear a mask and main­tain so­cial dis­tanc­ing any time you gather with oth­ers.”

As sum­mer winds down, pub­lic health of­fi­cials are rac­ing to curb the spread of COVID-19. The ef­fort in­cludes is­su­ing warn­ings and tak­ing ac­tions to re­duce the risks of crowded out­door gath­er­ings. It’s a mes­sage not res­onat­ing with ev­ery­one, as many en­joy­ing the warm weather aren’t wear­ing masks or keep­ing dis­tance from oth­ers.

Crowd sizes are also an is­sue. Swim­ming along the city’s lake­front has been banned all sum­mer. Now sub­ur­ban beaches in Evanston and Lake County limit vis­i­tors, hav­ing seen a surge of Chicagoans head north. Beaches aren’t the only con­cern.

In a me­dia brief­ing, Chicago Pub­lic Health chief Dr. Al­li­son Ar­wady re­cently told a story of a neigh­bor chat­ting with a man and woman out­side their home for about 20 min­utes with none of them wear­ing masks. All three later tested pos­i­tive for the virus, she said.

Cook County is launch­ing a so­cial me­dia cam­paign soon re­mind­ing young peo­ple about the im­por­tance of masks. Out­side in open air is a safer en­vi­ron­ment than an in­door set­ting with poor air cir­cu­la­tion, but the virus also spreads through close con­tact, even out­doors, said Dr. Rachel Ru­bin, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at Cook County De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health.

“Be­ing out­doors is much bet­ter than be­ing in­side be­cause you have con­stant air move­ment, but it does not mean you are safe,” Ru­bin said.

Health ex­perts ad­vise dur­ing the fi­nal weeks of sum­mer to con­sider:

† If you’re masked and oth­ers aren’t, you are at risk.

♦ If you’re wear­ing a thin mask and are in close prox­im­ity to a sick per­son, you’re also at risk.

♦ If you’re un­masked and close to oth­ers who are un­masked, you’re at the great­est risk whether you’re in­side or out­side.

The bot­tom line: Wear masks, stay at least 6 feet away and wash hands fre­quently.

“We’re see­ing a rise in cases be­cause we’re not do­ing good enough at our mask­ing, so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hy­giene,” said Dr. Micheal Lin, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Lin and other ex­perts say brief en­coun­ters, such as some­one quickly walk­ing by another per­son out­side, don’t pose much risk. But when some­one is ex­posed to another per­son for 15 min­utes and within six feet, there is a bet­ter chance of be­ing in­fected. Some can spread the virus in a shorter amount of time.

No mask is 100% ef­fec­tive, and a study from Duke Univer­sity warns that thin ma­te­rial neck gaiters and ban­danas may not work to pre­vent in­fec­tion.

A cloth or in­ex­pen­sive sur­gi­cal mask will “work good enough,” said Dr. Robert Mur­phy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Global Health at North­west­ern Univer­sity.

“The mask is just part of it,” Mur­phy said. “So­cial dis­tanc­ing is just part of it. You im­prove your chances of not be­ing in­fected three- to five­fold.”

Health ex­perts also ad­vise par­ents to take pre­cau­tions around youth ac­tiv­i­ties.

As a lead­ing ex­pert on in­fec­tious dis­eases, Dr. Emily Lan­don spent the past sev­eral months im­plor­ing peo­ple to wear masks and keep their dis­tance.

So when her 11-year-old son re­cently played in his first Western Springs Lit­tle League game of 2020, she was aghast when play­ers, their fam­i­lies and coaches de­clined to wear masks or took them off dur­ing the game. Masks are en­cour­aged but not re­quired, the league web­site states.

Af­ter talk­ing to league or­ga­niz­ers, Lan­don, a re­searcher and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at Univer­sity of Chicago, said she was told par­ents weren’t will­ing to go along with such a man­date. It was the last game for her son.

“Mask­ing is re­ally im­por­tant for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing chil­dren,” Lan­don said. “If it’s op­tional to have bat­ting hel­mets, would the play­ers wear them?”

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Cook County is launch­ing a so­cial me­dia cam­paign soon re­mind­ing peo­ple about the im­por­tance of masks even when out­doors.

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