Catching COVID in a Crowd: A Look at How COVID is Spread

Author Edward Borton , 03-Jul-2020

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, primarily spreads through droplets from coughing or sneezing. When an infected person exhales, they expel tiny droplets of saliva and mucus. These droplets can then land on surfaces or be inhaled by other people, causing them to become infected.

The coronavirus can also be spread indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces. If someone touches a surface with the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, they can become infected.

Additionally, the virus can spread through close contact with an infected person. If two people are within six feet of each other for a prolonged time, the risk of transmission increases. In all cases, it is essential to practice good hygiene and avoid close contact with others to reduce the spread of COVID-19.


Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Close Contact

The Air Force and Ohio State University came together to make a classification system for UFOs, or unidentified flying objects segmented into first, second, and third kinds. While COVID is not a UFO, there are some things to consider regarding COVID spread. Close contact is a common way that COVID is spread.

Close contact is when you are near someone sick and could spread their illness to you. This includes intimate conversation, touching, or sharing food or drinks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, has specific guidance on what close contact means depending on the illness.

Close contact means being within 6 feet of a sick person for most illnesses. For diseases spread through coughing and sneezing, such as measles, close contact means being within about 3 feet of the ill person. CDC recommends that people stay away from sick people as much as possible to help prevent the spread of disease. This is why social distancing has come into play to combat the coronavirus.


Social Distancing in Gatherings and Public

Social distancing is a technique used to minimize close contact with other people to prevent infection. It is often done to limit the spread of a pandemic or outbreak.

Crowds and social gatherings can be hotbeds for exchanging germs, so avoiding close contact with others can help reduce your risk of becoming infected. Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face. If you need to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue and then immediately discard the tissue.


Can You Catch COVID in a Crowd Outside?

Crowds provide an ideal environment for the spread of COVID because they allow close contact between people who may be infected and those who are not. Even though it is thought to be safer outside, where the virus may be less contagious, those who are not practicing social distancing and congregating in packed crowds could be putting themselves and others at risk.

GIDEON Founder Dr. Stephen Berger recently explained in both Healthline and YahooFinance how easily COVID-19 could be transmitted in a crowd, particularly those you’d see at a protest or a concert complete with signs and posters. “The center of a large crowd is no different than a sealed off, an unventilated room filled with potentially infected individuals — many holding large signs which will block the flow of clean air,” Dr. Berger said.

Many protests and concerts document people not wearing masks or keeping a safe distance of six feet apart from one another. “If even one carrier of COVID-19 was present at these gatherings, we could expect to see a wave of cases appearing during the next 2 to 14 days,” explained Dr. Berger.

He adds that along with a potential spike in new coronavirus cases attributed to protests, more spread could come during these summer months as businesses open up and people grow tired of cautionary restrictions and guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

He further recommends that those participating in protests or other large summer gatherings be vigilant about using a face mask and maintaining distance. Dr. Berger says that it is wise to “assume that the stranger next to you is spreading the virus.” Even fully vaccinated people should understand the risk of assembling in large crowds during this public health crisis.


Addressing the Summer Holidays & Health

COVID has impacted the summer holidays and even summer tourism for many people. For many people, summertime is a time to travel and enjoy time with family and friends. However, COVID has made it challenging to travel safely and congregate in large groups. Not to mention the holidays that take place during summer. There are many holidays and events that are celebrated during the summer around the world that feature outdoor activities. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Fourth of July (USA)
    • A holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence is celebrated with fireworks, parades, and barbecues.
  • Memorial Day (USA)
    • commemorates military personnel who have died in service
  • Carnival (Brazil)
    • A five-day celebration leading up to Lent featuring parties, dancing, and colorful costumes.
  • La Tomatina (Spain)
    • A festival in which participants throw tomatoes at each other until the town square is covered in red pulp.
  • San Fermin in Pamplona (Spain)
    • a festival that celebrates Saint Fermin and features a running of the bulls.
  • Hari Raya Puasa (Malaysia)
    • Special meals and prayers mark the Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan.
  • The Calgary Stampede (Canada)
    • a rodeo and exhibition event that is one of the largest in the world

A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University found that the COVID virus is more stable in warmer temperatures; however, it has a lower reproductive number because of high levels of UV radiation. While the virus does not appear to spread more easily in warmer weather, the increased travel and social interaction that often occurs during summer holidays can contribute to the spread of the disease.  As a result, people must take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID during the summer holidays. These precautions include wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and maintaining social distancing. These precautions also apply to those who are vaccinated. Being vaccinated is another excellent way to slow the spread of COVID, as well as limits the transmission of the virus and make symptoms milder.


Summer Holiday Safety Suggestions for Outdoor Activities

Let’s use the Fourth of July in the United States as an example. Independence Day is a time for celebration, family reunions, good food, good drink, and momentarily escaping the everyday. The 4th of July has been one of the biggest national holidays since 1776 and draws millions across the country to gatherings for fairs, fireworks, and fun. Since the pandemic has begun, the significant difference is the lingering threat of the coronavirus, COVID, and keeping guests healthy. How can people still enjoy the day and limit the risk of bringing home more than just fond memories?

Keep Your Celebrations Outside

Avoiding enclosed spaces wherever possible is critical during the coming independence day celebrations. Bars, restaurants, cafes, and halls make it extremely difficult to distance socially. Even if the establishment has made special arrangements, close interaction with staff or other patrons is almost unavoidable. Couple this with recirculated air or no ventilation at all, and it becomes a prime area for spreading disease through contact or inhalation. Only dine or drink at establishments with suitable outdoor spaces, or takeaway and enjoy in your own safe space.

Keep Your Distance

It’s hard to imagine spending time with friends and family without sharing a hug, a dance, or shaking hands. Just think about the number of people you would typically brush up against during a house party or concert – don’t take that risk in the present climate. Respect your own social space and that of others, and avoid direct contact with anyone outside of your household, even if you know and trust them (symptoms can take weeks to show). Keep in mind that you can still catch COVID in crowds outside.

Check the COVID Situation in Your Neighborhood

With specific areas being more greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than others,  check the situation in your area, and use your best judgment. For those most at risk, the elderly and sufferers of chronic diseases, the safest option is to remain at home and celebrate privately. This might sound like harsh advice, especially as it seems the perfect moment to reconnect with family and friends, but please consider that the price could prove severe.

Make it a Masquerade

If you decide to venture out to celebrate, please take your face mask with you. It can be awkward when eating and drinking, but it protects you significantly when walking through crowded areas – of course, keep your distance. There is also a lot of information out there in the news and across the web about wearing a face mask, face shields, and even gloves for COVID.

One way to make wearing a mask more fun is to decorate your mask for the occasion, and it could be a great way to encourage the kids to keep the masks on! Avoid using paints or anything that will drastically affect the absorbency of your mask – felt tips or chalks should be perfect – or pin on decorations!

Keep it Clean

The safest way to approach anything you didn’t bring with you is to consider it dirty or even contaminated. Either wipe it clean before you use it or immediately wash your hands after using it. Disinfecting is critical to prevent the spread of disease. This may seem extreme, but you cannot see any traces of a virus left behind by someone else, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Bring your cups, wipes, and even cutlery to dine worry-free if you plan to eat and drink while attending an event. Be prepared for longer queues than average, especially in toilets or restrooms.

What About COVID in Small Indoor Crowds like the Gym?

Many states are relaxing their stay-at-home guidelines, including opening up fitness facilities to the public again. Most must operate under a limited capacity, enhance cleaning and sanitation practices, and use signs and floor markers to ensure social distancing. But the big question is whether it’s safe to go back? Experts warn social distancing may not be so easy at a gym.

“A gym is just another venue where disease can be passed from person to person. The risk of contracting COVID-19 might increase there, where group sports and games require close personal contact,” our co-founder and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Stephen Berger, explained to

“The fact that you might be young and healthy won’t affect your chance of becoming infected; it will only increase your chances of surviving an infection without severe or fatal consequences.”

Similarly, suppose you’re in a region where local officials are mandating or strongly urging residents to wear face masks or other facial coverings in public. In that case, the gym is not exempt from those guidelines, notes Dr. Berger.


Putting it All Together

The pandemic has shown us how easily a disease can spread through a crowd. The proximity of people amplifies the risk of transmission, and the virus can quickly spread through an entire population. This is why social distancing is so essential, as it helps to reduce the number of contacts between people and slows the spread of the virus. However, social distancing can be challenging to maintain in a crowd, especially when people move around.

As the summer season kicks off and more people venture outdoors, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is still a genuine threat. The disease can be spread through close contact with an infected person, and crowded places are particularly susceptible to outbreaks. Recent COVID-related outbreaks have been linked to gyms, bars, and other social gatherings. While it may be tempting to let our guard down as the weather gets warmer, it’s important to stay vigilant to protect ourselves and others.

It is essential to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to protect yourself. For example, you should avoid touching surfaces that are likely to be contaminated, such as doorknobs and handrails. You should also wash your hands frequently and wear a mask if possible. By following these simple guidelines, you can help prevent the spread of COVID in a crowd.


The GIDEON Difference for Combatting Coronavirus

GIDEON is one of the most well-known and comprehensive global databases for infectious diseases. Data is refreshed daily, and the GIDEON API allows medical professionals and researchers access to a continuous stream of data. Whether your research involves quantifying data, learning about specific microbes, or testing out differential diagnosis tools– GIDEON has you covered with a program that has met standards for accessibility excellence.

Edward Borton

Edward is a creative writer and editor currently helping GIDEON create insightful, compelling, and educational content to help bring the most out of GIDEON's data. Having worked in the IT, engineering, and medical industries, Edward has edited and authored promotional, academic, and professional pieces focused on engaging the reader and translating highly technical concepts into plain English.

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