How we survive the winter

Even if you’ve had the virus, plan to spend the winter living as though you are constantly contagious. This primarily means paying attention to where you are and what’s coming out of your mouth. The liquid particles we spew can be generated simply by breathing, but far more by speaking, shouting, singing, coughing, and sneezing. While we cannot stop doing all of these things, every effort at minimizing unnecessary contributions of virus to the air around others helps.

Along with masking and distancing, time itself can effectively be another tool in our bundles. It’s not just the distance from another person that determines transmission; it’s also the duration. A shorter interaction is safer than a longer one because the window for the virus to enter your airways is narrower. Any respiratory virus is more likely to cause disease if you inhale higher doses of it. If you do find yourself in high-risk scenarios, at least don’t linger. Fredrick Sherman, a professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recommends that if someone near you coughs or sneezes, “immediately exhale to avoid inhaling droplets or aerosols. Purse your lips to make the exhaling last longer. Turn your head fully away from the person and begin walking.”

Even as it gets colder, continue to socialize and exercise outdoors when possible—even if it’s initially less pleasant than being inside. It’s worth thinking about sweaters, hats, and coats as protective measures akin to masks. During the holidays, don’t plan gatherings in places where you can’t be outdoors and widely spaced. This may mean postponing or canceling long-standing traditions. For a lot of people, that will be difficult and sad. For some, it will be a welcome relief. In either case, it’s better than sending a family member to the ICU.

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