- As the country comes out of lockdown, it’s becoming harder to avoid being around large crowds of people.
- However, being around large groups increases your risk of contracting COVID-19.
- If you’ve been near someone who has COVID-19 or you begin to develop symptoms, you will want to get tested.
- You may also choose to self-isolate for 2 weeks, especially if you live with someone vulnerable.
- Following recommendations for social distancing, handwashing, and wearing face coverings can help reduce your risk if you do go into crowded areas.
As the country comes out of lockdown, it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid large crowds of people.
We try to take precautions, but sometimes it’s difficult to maintain physical distancing when you’re in a large group of people.
If you’ve been around a lot of people lately, you may be wondering whether you could have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, whether or not you should get tested, and when you should do it.
When to get tested for COVID-19
According to Jason Yang, PhD, assistant professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, our understanding of COVID-19 is still evolving. However, the current scientific consensus is that any large public gathering will put us at risk.
Even if people do not currently show symptoms, they are still capable of transmitting the virus, he explained.
Yang said you should get tested immediately if you learn that you’ve been in close contact with someone who has recently tested positive.
You would also want to get tested if you begin to develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, or fever.
Working in a job where you have frequent contact with the public would also be an indicator that you may want to obtain testing, he said.
However, if you recently attended a large, crowded event such as a protest or similar gathering, Yang recommends waiting a week before getting tested.
“The incubation period for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is 1 to 2 weeks, so being tested immediately after… may give falsely negative results,” he explained.
What about self-isolating?
Yang noted that there is no official guidance about when you should self-isolate.
However, he feels it would be a good idea if you have been in crowded gatherings, especially if there were people around you who were not wearing face coverings.
Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Public Health, further explained that self-isolating after a large event becomes important because you may not be able to know who else at the event was infected.
In addition, Labus said self-isolation is important if you live with someone who is at high risk for serious disease or hospitalization.
In order to self-isolate, Labus said you should remain home and avoid contact with other people — including those who live in your home — for 14 days after the exposure.
“If you have not developed the disease by the end of fourteen days, you are unlikely to do so,” he said.
How to get testing if you need it
Labus said PCR testing is widely available in every community.
PCR stands for a polymerase chain reaction. It is a type of laboratory testing that can be used to identify the genetic material in a sample as belonging to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
A positive result on this test would indicate that you have an active COVID-19 infection.
If you aren’t sure where to go for testing, he suggested speaking with your local health department about testing locations.
You can also obtain the test through your doctor. However, you should call them in advance if you are currently having symptoms.
How to protect yourself if you do go into a crowd
Labus said the best advice is to avoid large groups because this limits the number of people who might potentially be infected at one time.
However, this isn’t always easy, especially if you plan to participate in an event like a protest.
If you feel you must be a part of a large group, he suggested keeping your distance from others as best as you can.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping at least 6 feet (about two arms’ length) between you and other people.
Wearing a mask is also important, he noted, but not to protect yourself. It protects those around you.
Also, remember to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, he said.
The bottom line
Although the best recommendation is to avoid large gatherings of people in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are many situations where people feel compelled to participate in activities where there will be large crowds of people present.
If you are around large crowds, keep in mind that you may be at greater risk for contracting the disease or spreading it to other people.
Be sure to follow protective measures like wearing face coverings, washing your hands, and social distancing as best as you can.
You may also want to consider measures like self-isolation or obtaining COVID-19 testing in the weeks following the event, especially if you’ve been exposed to someone with the disease or live with someone with greater vulnerability to the disease.