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The Do's And Don'ts Of Winter Gathering During The Pandemic


Cold weather has set in around much of the country. And with coronavirus cases surging, people are trying to figure out ways to spend time together safely. Ben Johns, general merchandising manager at REI, said he started seeing items for colder weather beginning to sell this summer.

BEN JOHNS: Really, the thing that blew us away was starting in August, we saw snow product starting to sell, specifically snow shoes and cross-country skis but then also things that go along with that - so insulated boots, base layers to keep folks warm.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're going to talk through now the dos and don'ts of COVID in winter with Julie Marcus. She's an epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Hello.

JULIA MARCUS: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What concerns you the most as the temperatures begin to drop, especially as the holidays are approaching?

MARCUS: Well, I think some of the surge that we're seeing now probably is due to people gathering indoors more in areas of the country where it's now getting more uncomfortable to be outside. So I am concerned that we are going to continue to see more transmission happening indoors. And I think at that point, the best we can do is, you know, of course, stay with our household as much as possible. But that - you know, that's not going to be sustainable throughout the winter for everyone. And so I think trying to stay with a social bubble throughout the winter, I think, will probably reduce risk.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just like to get your take on this moment. We are just seeing these record cases. And a lot of people are asking themselves, with the pandemic so out of control in the United States, can it even be dialed back by something that I do?

MARCUS: Well, we don't want to have a sense of futility here. Every person, of course, can try to reduce their risk and the risk to others around them. But we also need to keep pushing for federal support. In many ways, we've been kind of left to our own devices here. And there are still policies that have not been put in place, like paid sick leave, you know, safe spaces for people to isolate outside of crowded households. Those are things that should have been in place on day one and are still, you know, not widespread across the U.S. and certainly not supported at a federal level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about the holidays. They are fast approaching. A lot of families are planning to gather in person. What are your thoughts on that?

MARCUS: Well, I want to be clear that every day that goes by, the risk of gathering people outside of one's household and traveling to see loved ones is getting higher. But I think we cannot just say don't gather and leave it at that because some people will and some people really need to travel and need to see their loved ones. You know, maybe somebody is toward the end of their life. I think we have to give people tools to mitigate risk in those situations. You know, outdoors is safer than indoors. Keep your gatherings small. Try to be creative. You know, we don't necessarily have to have Thanksgiving that looks like it always does. But I think it would be a mistake to just say, you know, you absolutely cannot travel because we know people will. And that kind of goes back to abstinence-only messaging where we know when we just say, you know, just say no to sex or to drug use, that what happens is people eventually do have sex or use drugs. And they lack the tools they need to protect themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are your plans for the winter?

MARCUS: My plans are to stick with my household as much as possible. You know, we're going to try to layer up and be outdoors as much as possible. But I could see at some point creating a bubble, let's say, with one other family.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julia Marcus is an epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Thank you very much.

MARCUS: Great to be here. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.