DAVID GREENE, HOST:
COVID-19 is certainly not gone, but it can't stop summer, right? So how do we weigh the risks of some of our favorite summertime activities, whether it's camping, maybe gathering in the backyard, maybe a day at the beach or the pool? Well, let's get some answers to those questions from NPR's Allison Aubrey, who's been looking into it. Hi, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hey there, David.
GREENE: So you've been talking to public health experts. What did you find out?
AUBREY: That's right. Well, I have asked about everything from the risks of dining out, going to bars, camping, hosting a barbecue, taking a road trip, going to the beach. And there's a lot of consensus of which scenarios are safe. And, David, I'm not much of a poet, but I have put together something snappy here to kind of sum up the consensus. You ready?
GREENE: OK, I'm ready.
AUBREY: Head outside for fun. It's the safest place to be. Avoid boisterous drunks and crowds. Small groups are key.
GREENE: Well, I would say you are a poet. That's lovely.
GREENE: Let's dive into that a little bit. I mean, small groups are key - obviously makes sense. Outside being better - I assume that's because it's easy to social distance when you're outdoors.
AUBREY: Yeah. I mean, that's part of it. When you're outdoors, there's better circulation, constant ventilation, and there's another factor, too - sunlight. I spoke to Shanna Ratnesar-Shumate. She did this very cool study. She's a researcher at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center - that's a mouthful - part of the Department of Homeland Security.
AUBREY: And she and her colleagues put coronavirus in simulated saliva, then exposed it to light.
SHANNA RATNESAR-SHUMATE: As soon as we introduced even low levels of sunlight, about 90% of the virus was inactivated in about 13 minutes. And that's at a sunlight level that you could think about would be in the winter or early morning.
AUBREY: Now, at peak intensity of summer sunlight, it was inactivated in about seven minutes. So sunlight really is a good disinfectant.
GREENE: Oh, that's really cool to hear. I guess, still wear your sunscreen if you're going to be in sunlight for a while, but it can be a safe place to be when it comes to staying healthy in terms of this virus. Well, tell me about road-tripping, I mean, if I wanted to head to the beach or take a camping trip. Are those kinds of things OK?
AUBREY: You know, there was unanimous agreement among the experts that we spoke to that camping can be a great low-risk way to get out in nature and enjoy yourself - same with the beach or the lake, if you can avoid super crowded spots.
But here's the important point. It's what you do when you get to the beach or the campsite and who you're with that could possibly drive up the risk. I spoke to Andrew Janowski. He's an infectious disease expert at Washington University in St. Louis. He says be very careful about expanding your social bubble, your social circle, and find out about each person.
ANDREW JANOWSKI: Is this a person who's also practicing social distancing? Because if they're doing what they can and you're doing what you can, you know, that helps put a shield around all of you.
AUBREY: So I would say maybe this is not the best summer to make a whole bunch of new friends. The idea here is to have a trusted few.
GREENE: But this is really helpful because it sounds like it is less about what you're doing and more about who you're surrounding yourself with.
AUBREY: Yeah, that's exactly right. And I would add a note to surfers or people who like to hang out at the beach a lot. Kay Bidle is a professor of microbial oceanography at Rutgers University. She says if infected people were congregating at the shore, the winds could disperse the virus. So while it's clear there's a lower risk of exposure outdoors compared to indoors, it's still important to practice social distancing even in the surf lineup.
GREENE: OK, let's say I want to go on a trip with another family, people I trust and know, as you said. What about going with them, renting a beach house or a lake house? Is that cool?
AUBREY: For the most part, all the experts I spoke to say go for it. It can be low risk if you take the precautions we've talked about. Here's Andrew Janowski again.
JANOWSKI: For the most part, a vacation home is low risk. I think one of the hidden weapons that we have against this virus is actually time. We know this virus may last up to a few days on surfaces. And so the longer that nobody's been in the home, the lower risk that the virus is still present in the rental property.
AUBREY: And you can easily wipe down the surfaces when you arrive. And he says with hotels, it's really a similar story. Many of them are doubling down on cleaning policies. The greater risk of exposure is who you come in contact with when you go to the rental home or the hotel because, remember, it's the person-to-person contact that's the main route of transmission.
GREENE: So are there things we should really make sure to avoid this summer?
AUBREY: You know, when you think of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, there's inherent risk when people are in close quarters. So experts say, for food, takeout is safer than hanging out in a restaurant or bar. And a physician I spoke to - he's a public health expert at Ohio State University - Bill Miller, he says when you mix crowds and alcohol, the risk can really go up.
WILLIAM MILLER: When people drink alcohol, they tend to lose inhibitions. They don't follow the rules. People start moving closer to one another. People tend to talk a little bit louder sometimes. And essentially, any time that you're more forcefully expelling air, there's going to be a greater push of virus from the lungs and into the air.
AUBREY: So if there's one infected person, it's easy to see how that can spread. He says the best evidence of this has been the well-publicized case of the outbreak in the choir in Washington state.
GREENE: Oh, that's right. Yeah, that was really tragic.
GREENE: All right, so avoid people who are drunk and speaking loudly. I guess the one other question I want to ask that's probably on the minds of a lot of people - what about public restrooms?
AUBREY: Sure. At some point, if you're on a road trip, you're going to have to go, right? And Bill Miller and the other experts I spoke to say the risk here is low if you're smart. There are lots of surfaces in a bathroom, from handles to faucets, so wash your hands, as we've all heard a million times. And the ventilation isn't great in bathrooms, either. So get in and out quickly, wear your mask, and the fewer people in there, the better.
GREENE: OK, lots of good advice from NPR's Allison Aubrey this morning. Allison, thanks a lot.
AUBREY: Thank you, David.
(SOUNDBITE OF LEON BRIDGES FEAT. TERRACE MARTIN'S "BAD BAD NEWS (RICKY'S VIBE TAPE)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.