Health expert weighs in on socially distant gatherings

Megan Fahrney and Rachel Katz

Honking cars lined up outside of homes and mask-wearing teenagers chatting on driveways, standing six feet apart. For many, this has become the new norm for socialization. 

Following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s issuance of COVID-19 Executive Order No. 30 on April 30, which prohibits leaving the home for all non-essential activity and states that a six-foot distance must be maintained between individuals, Pritzker issued a five-phase Restore Illinois plan on May 5. The plan describes both the phases of restrictions as well as the eventual reopening of regions within the state. 

Currently, Illinois is in Phase 2, or “Flattening,” which allows Illinoisans to participate in “outdoor activities like golf, boating and fishing while practicing social distancing” and requires the use of a mask “when outside the home.” 

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious diseases physician and Biosecurity Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in an email exchange that it is important for people to consider who they are with and what the group will be doing during socially distant gatherings since at times it can be difficult to maintain a six-foot distance.

Car parades, which involve gathering in a line in front of someone’s house while remaining inside cars, are fine, but should consist of one person per car, Kuppalli said. 

It is also important for people to wear face masks when interacting with others as well as maintain proper hand hygiene in order to prevent the transmission of the virus, Kuppalli said. 

“It is thought that when you sneeze or cough, the droplets travel approximately six feet, which is why [health experts] recommend that people maintain that distance,” Kuppalli said.  

“I think it is important for people to know that while adults who are older with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity are at increased risk of having serious adverse outcomes such as death, we have also seen poor outcomes in younger people,” said Kuppalli. “Anyone can get this disease.”