Month: March 2020

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How long can the coronavirus live on surfaces, can I get COVID-19 twice, and every other question you might have about the pandemic

Since the novel coronavirus began spreading throughout China in January, it has reached 104 additional countries and infected 109,577 people globally. So far, 3,809 people have reportedly died from COVID-19. To contain community outbreaks, countries have taken drastic measures like travel restrictions and are now contemplatingaudienceless sport matches.

Amid widespread panic, online misinformation has thrived—websites have claimed that hot baths and hand dryers can kill the virus. Some people have even placed face masks on their dogs, despite the fact that pets like cats and dogs likely can’t spread the virus to humans.

Part of the reason for this confusion is that the coronavirus currently circulating around the world is novel; not even experts have much to go on.

“We all wish that we had the answers, but in infectious disease epidemiology we are accustomed to operating in this uncertain space,” says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. She has previously studied infectious disease like Ebola and MERS, all of which she says present similar challenges early on when definitive information is scarce; with any new virus, thorough scientific investigations take time. “It probably seems frustrating to readers, but this is one of the challenges of facing a new pathogen.”

Here are some of the most common questions we’ve been getting and what Rivers, and others, have to offer.

How do I know if I have the COVID-19 infection?

This illness usually looks like a common cold. Anytime between about two and 14 days after exposure, people usually get a fever and cough. People may also experience shortness of breath, Rivers says, though it probably doesn’t occur with most mild infections.

You should call your doctor if you develop symptoms after having close contact with an infected individual or visiting any area with ongoing community spread, according to the CDC.

Who is the most susceptible to infection?

The most common route people have caught the novel virus is through close contact (which is defined as anything 6 feet away or less) and droplets from the nose or mouth, Rivers says.

When infected, the demographics most at risk of severe illness are older adults and individuals with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, according to the CDC.

Reports from China, where the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated, could reveal how COVID-19 affects people by age. As of last month, only about 10 percent of China’s identified cases were in people under 30, and just two percent were individuals under 20. Three-quarters of cases have occurred within adults between 30 and 69 years old. People over 70 made up about 12 percent of cases.

The fatality rates also skew towards older populations. The highest is people aged 80 and up, of which 14.8 percent die from COVID-19. Eight percent of those 70 to 79 succumb to it, 3.5 percent of 60 to 69 year olds, and 1.3 percent of those 50 to 59. Below 50 and the fatality rate is below one percent. There were just 8 deaths total in people under 30, despite more than 4,500 cases in that age range.

Though women and men became infected at around the same rate, nearly two thirds of fatalities were male. This could reflect habits within China, Vox reported, because smoking is more common there with men than women.

For additional demographic-specific COVID-19 information, click here.

How long are people contagious for?

People with mild illness likely aren’t infectious after about 10 days, STAT reported based on Monday’s preprint study. (Several recent studies on the new coronavirus have yet to be peer reviewed, so some new information isn’t totally certain.) COVID-19 antibodies—which help people fight off the infection—likely develop between about five and 12 days. This rapid response by our immune systems could explain why the majority (around 80 percent) of cases don’t become severe. Researchers still don’t know what level of immune response is sufficient, Rivers says.

COVID-19 spreads most easily through close contact when people are at their sickest—though asymptomatic individuals may still infect others, the CDC reported. Health officials still aren’t sure if recovered people actually spread it, though people technically emit or “shed” the virus from their throats and feces, Some people tested positive several weeks after their recovery, two February studies found, though that didn’t necessarily make them infectious.

Where did the virus originate from?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus first appeared in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. The specific source is currently unknown, though many of the first COVID-19 patients had visited a fish and wild animal market. Researchers are now investigating the exact relationship between the virus and bats. It may have jumped from bats to an intermediary animal before reaching humans.

Pinpointing the origin could be important to avoiding high-risk situations in the future, Rivers says, yet it may not be worth obsessing over wet markets (which sell fresh meat, fish, and produce).

“I do not put a lot of stock in pinning down a particular moment,” she says. “So, whether it was the market I don’t know, but I think those kinds of stories are more allegorical than literal.”

How does it actually get into my body?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus most commonly enters the body through droplets from the nose and mouth, along with close contact. The disease can therefore easily spread in infected households and physical interactions like handshakes, Rivers says.

How does the novel coronavirus affect children?

As of February, people younger than 10 years old only counted for about 1 percent or 416 of China’s total 72, 314 total cases. Most infected children presented mild cold-like symptoms, which may contribute to underdiagnosis in youths. Yet kids can still contract and spread the virus to more vulnerable populations: A recent study on the Chinese city of Shenzhen reported a sharp increase in identified children’s cases, which could indicate COVID-19 easily spreads within families.

Can pets spread COVID-19?

Your pet likely can’t infect you with the virus—though they can catch it and test positive for weak levels of the novel virus, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. A Pomeranian living in Hong Kong may have caught the disease from its owner, though it didn’t show any symptoms.

There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they can become sick, the World Organization for Animal Health said. Pet owners should practice basic hygiene measures like “hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking, or sharing food.”

Can it be transferred through food and drink?

Though there’s currently no definitive evidence, infected people who handle food could possibly pass on the virus (it’s been found in people’s stool and can spread through droplets from the nose or mouth). Yet the cooking process may kill the virus, infectious disease specialist Todd Ellerin said in a blog post.

Can you get COVID-19 more than once?

In February, rumors swirled about a Japanese woman who allegedly developed COVID-19 twice. Experts concluded that it was most likely a relapse rather than a second infection.

In general, reinfection seems highly unlikely: Most infectious diseases trigger a permanent immune response during recovery, Rivers says. If anyone were to get COVID-19 a second time, it’d be immunocompromised individuals—though, she says, that’d still be quite rare.

How long does the coronavirus live on surfaces?

New research suggests that the virus can persist in the air for about three hours and remain on some surfaces, like plastic and stainless steel, for up to two to three days. The timing seems to depend on the specific material, with shorter detection periods on cardboard (up to 24 hours) and copper (up to four hours).

Solutions that contain diluted bleach could effectively disinfect surfaces, though the optimal cleaning method is currently unknown. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can infect people. COVID-19 can only be proven to spread if it’s grown in a lab environment, which warrants more extensive study.

“There’s a difference between what’s possible and what’s the most likely route of transmission,” Rivers says.

For now, the CDC recommends disinfecting surfaces to lower the possible risk of infection.

Can I become infected when taking public transportation?

As mentioned above, the virus’ effect on surfaces, including stainless steel poles and plastic or fabric seats, is still unclear. However, it can definitely spread through droplets from the nose or mouth so standing on a packed train during rush hour could therefore pose a risk, particularly on longer commutes: Close contact (less than 6 feet apart) for at least 15 minutes with an infected person likely spreads COVID-19.

Currently, public transit authorities around the world are taking precautions like disinfecting vehicles and adjusting ventilation to prevent transmission, though it’s unclear whether these measures are effective.

Does the flu shot protect me?

There’s no direct advantage, Rivers says, because coinfection of both the flu and COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be common. Still, fewer flu patients could significantly lessen the burden on health care providers.

What should I do if soap and hand sanitizer are sold out?

As cleaning supplies fly off the shelves, some stores have begun to ration hand sanitizer and soap—which are extremely helpful in preventing COVID-19 infections. Though professionally manufactured products are ideal, it’s possible to make your own hand sanitizer until you can buy more.

Should I shave my beard to avoid infection?

Shaven or unshaven, beards probably have nothing to do with the disease’s spread. Last month, online misinformation led users to believe that the CDC recommended certain beard shapes over others to avoid COVID-19. The popular poster was not produced in relation to the novel coronavirus outbreak, but rather intended for professionals who require respiratory protection at work. For the average person, the CDC advises against face masks unless you’re already feeling ill.

Can it spread through feces?

Even after people stop showing symptoms, traces of the virus can appear in their feces. It’s currently unclear, however, whether this residue is infectious. You are far more likely to acquire or spread the virus through close contact and droplets.

Can handling cash give me COVID-19?

Again, we don’t really know how long the virus stays on surfaces and whether lingering residue can actually infect people. If you’re worried, perhaps switch to credit cards or Apple Pay (make sure to regularly disinfect your phone and your cards). And, as always, wash your hands.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that staying within 6 feet of an infected person (not about 6 feet away from them) can increase someone’s chances of getting the virus.

Written by Molly Glick for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Popular Science

Fight COVID-19 on the go with homemade hand sanitizer

You probably haven’t considered making your own hand sanitizer. Stores sell it for cheap, in a variety of scents and styles, and it’s basically as good as it can be. But if you’ve been to a pharmacy in the midst of a viral outbreak like the one currently gripping the nation, you’ve likely noticed that shelves empty as anxiety levels rise.

Right now in New York City, for example, it’s not easy to get any disinfectant product (wipes, spray, etc.), and the fish bowls full of hand sanitizer bottles you would normally find at the checkout counter aren’t even there anymore.

So, if that old bottle of hand sanitizer you’ve been carrying around is half-empty, don’t panic. You can make your own sanitizing gel with supplies you can find at a drugstore or may already have at home.

There are two main formulas out there: one, recommended by the World Health Organization, is closer to liquid than gel and is harder on your hands, while the other will be gentler on your skin and closely resembles the feel of store-bought hand sanitizer. Which one you make depends on your personal preference.

But before you start, it’s crucial that you understand simply rubbing your paws with hand sanitizer is not a substitute for good ol’ hand washing). Alcohol-based disinfectants used in the right amount (3 milliliters) and rubbed long enough (25 to 30 seconds) are fine in a pinch, because you’re not always near a sink. But soap, water, and a good scrub is the absolute best way to protect yourself against contagious diseases. Got it? Good. Let’s do this.

Stats

Time: literally 2 minutes

Estimated ingredient cost: $15 (makes 3.5 cups, or 15 of those little two-ounce bottles)

Difficulty: easy

Tools

  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Whisk
  • Empty spray bottles (for WHO formulation)
  • Empty lotion or sanitizer containers (for gel formulation)

Instructions for the WHO formulation

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of 99% isopropyl alcohol
  • 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 teaspoon of 98% glycerin
  • ¼ cup, 1 tablespoon, and 1 teaspoon (or 85 milliliters) of sterile distilled or boiled cold water

The WHO has a comprehensive guide on how to make your own hand sanitizer—the only problem is that if you follow these instructions, you’ll end up with a lot of it. Like, exactly 2.6 gallons of it. If you want to make enough to last you, your family, and all your friends through a zombie apocalypse, you definitely can. But if you want to keep things on a smaller scale, we’ve adapted the measurements for you.

1. Pour the alcohol into a medium-sized container with a pouring spout. The percentages on the labels of isopropyl alcohol refer to the alcohol concentration in them. You’re dealing with almost pure alcohol if you’ve got 99.8%, whereas 70% means the bottle is only a little more than two-thirds alcohol, and the rest is water.

  • Note: Some formulations have tried to adapt these proportions to use 91% isopropyl alcohol or even 70%. But these alcohol concentrations will render a final product that doesn’t comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol to fight COVID-19.
A measuring cup will help you get all proportions right.
. Popular Science

2. Add the hydrogen peroxide.

3. Add the glycerin and stir. This ingredient is thicker than both alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, so it’ll take some stirring to combine everything. You can use a clean spoon for this or, if your container has a lid, you can put that on and shake it well.

4. Measure and pour in the water. If you’re using 99% isopropyl alcohol, you’ll need to measure ¼ of a cup, 1 tablespoon, and 1 teaspoon of distilled or boiled cold water and add it all to your mix. If you’re using another percentage of isopropyl alcohol, just pour as much water as necessary to get to a final volume of 345 milliliters, or approximately 1.4 cups. Stir.

5. Sanitize your spray bottles and pour in your hand sanitizer. Spray some of your leftover alcohol into your bottles and let them sit until the alcohol has evaporated. Pour in your sanitizer.

6. Label your bottles. You don’t want any accidents where you or anybody else ingests your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles. Go kill some germs.

Instructions for gel sanitizer

Always label your bottles. It's unlikely you'll mistake one of these for a flask, but accidents do happen.
. Popular Science

Ingredients

1. Pour the alcohol into a medium container with a pouring spout. Some recipes online use vodka instead of isopropyl alcohol, but most vodkas don’t contain a high enough percentage of alcohol to be effective.

  • Note: Using isopropyl alcohol diluted beyond 91% will result in a more weaker hand sanitizer that doesn’t meet the CDC’s 60% benchmark.

2. Measure and pour the aloe vera gel. Alcohol can be hard on your skin, so using aloe is a good way to counteract that effect and keep your hands smooth. If you want to keep things natural, you can use aloe vera gel straight from the plant without worrying about it going bad—the alcohol will act as a preservative. However, you will need to keep in mind that natural aloe gel is thicker than its store-bought counterpart and will thus affect the final product differently—it will make your hand sanitizer more sticky, which means you’ll need to rub your hands more times for it to fully absorb.

That is a lot of aloe vera gel.
. Popular Science

3. Add the essential oil. Tea tree oil is naturally antibacterial, so it makes sense to use it here. But if you’re not a fan of its smell, you can use another type of essential oil, like lavender, lemongrass, or eucalyptus.

4. Whisk. To fully mix all ingredients, stirring won’t be enough. Get a whisk and beat that hand sanitizer into an homogeneous gel.

Shake that sanitizer like a Polaroid picture.
. Popular Science

5. Sanitize your spray bottles and pour in your hand sanitizer. Spray some of your leftover alcohol into your bottles and let them sit until the alcohol has evaporated. Pour in your sanitizer.

6. Label your containers. You don’t want any accidents where you or anybody else ingests your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles. Continue living.

Written by Sandra Gutierrez G. for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Popular Science

Three Things You Need to Make the Perfect Camp Breakfast

Camp cooking is somewhat of an art. When the right person in camp does the cooking, the meal can seem like one of the best you have ever tasted. Breakfast is no exception, as a great camp breakfast will rank right up there with your favorite breakfast restaurant or omelet bar. If you want to cook the perfect camp meal to start the day, here are three things you’ll need to make it happen.

Camp Stove

Nothing is quite as important to a great camp breakfast than just the right camp stove. If you’re happy with instant breakfast that can be made by adding some freeze-dried ingredients to a pan of boiling water, a tiny, backpacking-type stove will be fine for your purposes. But if you want to cook a really nice breakfast, replete with eggs, hash browns, and bacon or sausage, you’re going to need a larger stove that will handle a couple of pots and/or pans at the same time. Some things to consider when shopping for camp stoves include the number of burners, cooking power (typically measured in BTUs), and run time on a single propane cylinder. Run time is important because stoves that burn more gas require you to haul more gas cylinders to camp. You don’t want to end up eating cold food the last day or two.

Cast Iron Skillet

A good cast iron frying pan or skillet is one of the most versatile pieces of cooking equipment you can own. That goes double if you enjoy cooking in camp. With a good, pre-seasoned skillet, you can cook virtually every ingredient that comprises a good camp breakfast, from fried eggs and potatoes to bacon, biscuits, and more. A skillet with a top is more versatile than one without, although that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. One note of caution: be sure to get a heat-resistant silicon holder for your cast iron skillet. Those dirty rags you typically use to grab hot things in camp likely won’t offer much protection when grabbing a hot cast iron handle.

Cooler

Another key piece of gear for making a great camp breakfast is a good cooler. Depending on how long you intend to camp, you might need one that keeps ice frozen and food cold for several days. If that’s the case, you’ll need one of the newer rotomolded coolers, instead of the old camping ice chests your father and grandfather used decades ago. The process used to make rotomolded coolers increases the insulation power of the coolers since there is no air between layers of interior and exterior plastic. Many such coolers will not only keep your food cold for a good, long time, they’re also nearly indestructible.

Written by The Editors for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Johnson Outdoors

Why COVID-19 can’t beat a good hand-washing

Researchers are still working to understand how deadly COVID-19 is and how it spreads. But they know one thing for sure: Washing your hands is the key to minimizing the novel coronavirus’ powers of destruction.

Hand washing really, really works—and not just during outbreaks of new respiratory viruses. It also helps prevent the spread of a wide variety of disease-causing microbes, known as pathogens, from food-borne diseases like E.coli to flesh-eating bugs. And it works to contain the spread of illness whether you’re the one who is sick or you’re trying to avoid catching something in the first place. (It even works better than hand sanitizer, so lay off the Purell unless you’re on the go).

“Hand washing with soap for 20 seconds is one of the single most important practices to protect yourself, your family, and your community,” says Matthew Freeman, a professor of epidemiology and global health at Emory University.

On a purely physical level, hand washing works by actually removing the microbes from your hand thanks to some basic chemistry. Soap is what’s known as a surfactant, which means it breaks down the oils and dirt on your skin; water rinses the broken-down oils and dirt away, carrying microbes along for the ride. “By rubbing your hands together you create the friction to get the oils off,” Freeman says.

Washing your hands with just water can help a bit if the alternative is not washing your hands at all, but it’s way less effective than scrubbing with suds.

But why does this simple practice work so well to prevent the spread of contagious disease? After all, washing your hands regularly (and properly—see here for instructions) might seem like it’s just a first step. Everything around your hands is still covered in potentially pathogenic microbes.

Again, the answer is pretty basic: your hands touch the world, and they also touch you (and your face. Stop touching your face.) If you are sick, washing your hands regularly makes it less likely that you’ll spread pathogens from your hands to the things you touch, where they can be picked up by others. If you’re not sick, you can pick up microbes on your digits and carry them to your mucus membranes, like your eyes, nose, and mouth. (Stop. Touching. Your. Face.)

People have known about the effectiveness of hand washing for hundreds of years, says Freeman—even if they didn’t know why it worked. For instance, many of the world’s religions promote hand washing as a ritual practice. In the 19th century, as Western physicians stumbled toward an understanding of the germ theory of disease, hand washing slowly became an important thing to do in medical settings (though it was initially shockingly controversial). But it took much longer to get hand washing to the general public, says Freeman. It’s only in the last 40 years or so that public health authorities have started working hard to convince people to wash their hands after leaving the house, before eating, and even—eek—after using the bathroom.

Wash your hands, with soap, for about 20 seconds: it’s a simple recipe for good health.

But “possibly because it’s something that people know they should do, it’s very hard to get a sense of how many people actually do it,” he says. Research has shown that, globally, only around 19 percent of people wash their hands after using the bathroom. But there’s not a lot of data out there about how often people wash their hands at other times, and some studies indicate that even supposed-hand-washers don’t regularly subject themselves to the proper 20 to 30 seconds of sudsing.

Right now, you’re probably seeing a lot more hand washing (and a lot more thorough hand washing) than you’re used to. That’s because all of the messaging in the news and elsewhere about COVID-19 reminds people to wash their hands. But you should really be doing it all the time.

“Changing practices and habits are really hard,” Freeman says. Consider creating what Freeman calls a “cue to action” that encourages hand washing at key times, such as when you enter your house from the outside world. It could be as simple as placing a note where you hang up your keys. Freeman and his wife (who also studied hand washing practices) placed a sticker on the back of their first child’s highchair to remind them to wash her hands before they all sat down to dinner.

This outbreak is likely to change your hygiene habits for the better, and there’s no reason not to change them permanently. “Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapeños and you need to change your contacts,” one Canadian health official said recently. Wash early, wash often, and wash well. And don’t touch your face. Seriously.

Written by Kat Eschner for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Popular Science

Your travel-related COVID-19 questions, answered

The spread of coronavirus has us all full of questions. But as news of travel bans and outbreaks in several countries hit the headlines, those holding plane tickets are particularly worried about what they should do.

If that’s you, your decision to cancel or reschedule your trip will largely depend on your destination and the risk you’re willing to take. Now, if you choose not to travel, know that a myriad of factors will determine your chance of a refund, and most of them are out of your control.

No matter your choice or your plans, chances are you’re just as confused as everyone else. Worry not, fellow traveler—we’re here to answer your questions.

Staying informed

What does the U.S. government say about travel right now?

Just because you have a plane ticket booked does not mean you have to cancel your trip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been adamant that not all travelers should terminate their plans, and have said your decision should depend solely on whether or not you consider being really close to hundreds—if not thousands—of people an informed risk. To help passengers, the CDC has sorted destinations into three risk levels according to the severity of each particular outbreak. Any place that is not on this list is safe to visit, the CDC says.

As of March 4rh, the only place with a level 1 travel notice—the lowest—is Hong Kong. This means you don’t have to cancel or postpone your trips there, but you should exercise routine precautions to avoid infection: wash your hands thoroughly and often, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose, and stay away from anyone who’s sick. Japan is the only country in alert level 2, which advises older adults and people with chronic conditions to consult with their healthcare providers as to whether or not they should go abroad. Travelers should be most wary of traveling to places listed in warning level 3, which includes destinations the CDC recommends not traveling to unless absolutely necessary. This category is populated by China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy.

Now, these are not travel bans—you can absolutely visit these places if you want to. In fact, you can open a new tab in your browser right now and buy non-stop tickets to Milan or Beijing. The CDC’s risk levels are just recommendations that you can choose to follow or not, depending on how you want to play the odds. What you should keep in mind is that you run a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in all of these places, which could mean being quarantined and missing your flight back home.

The CDC’s recommendations also apply when any listed countries are part of your travel itinerary, but not your final destination. If you have layovers in Italian or South Korean airports, for example, the CDC recommends finding alternative routes. If this is not an option, you should stay in the airport and take routine precautions.

Meanwhile, the State Department has an interactive map on their website where you can see their recommendations for every country in the world—and sometimes even regions within the same country. On the map, regions with the highest warning level are colored red, and clicking on them will give you more information as to why they’ve gained that status.

Keep in mind that the State Department uses COVID-19 risk as just one of its parameters for labeling a country—most are red for political reasons, and others, like Italy, are not red at all. Still, in the context of COVID-19, the White House has issued travel bans for anyone entering the US who visited China or Iran in the past 14 days.

How do I find out the latest on cancellations and travel bans?

This is Misery Map, where you can see all delayed and cancelled flights in the U.S. and feel sorry for yourself or all the people on them.
. Popular Science

Yes, there’s a lot of information out there, and because it changes within days, if not hours, it’s hard to keep up.

The best way to keep track of all State Department regulation and advisory notices is to follow the agency on Facebook and Twitter, but it also has other platforms you can check regularly. The CDC has a strong social media presence, too, but you can go further and get them to email you live updates by signing up for their COVID-19 newsletter. Setting Google Alerts and following certain topics on Twitter are also great ways to get everything delivered to you.

If you’re about to leave for the airport, you can always check for live updates on cancelled flights all over the world at Flightware.com, where you can also see their misery map. Another way to get push notifications on your phone about your upcoming flights is to download the app for the airline you’re flying, or to add your flight information to your calendar. On Android phones, the Google Assistant will proactively notify you if something about your flight has changed. On iPhones, Siri will similarly keep you updated when you add your boarding pass to your wallet.

So, you decided to travel. What now?

What precautions should I take in busy transit hubs?

Airports congregate a huge number of people from all over the world, so no matter the city or country you’re in, it’s a good idea to take some precautions against COVID-19.

But, contrary to what you might think, these precautions are nothing special. They’re just the CDC’s basic recommendations on how to avoid COVID-19. If you need a reminder, here’s the shortlist:

  • Don’t wear face masks—these are only recommended for people who are actually sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using any regular household cleaning product. Having portable disinfectant wipes in your bag at all times is a good idea when you’re away from home.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds, but if you need special instructions for this—most people do—here’s a thorough guide.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Does COVID-19 act or spread differently on planes than it does on cruise ships?

We know you want to just venture out on the open seas, but maybe now's not the best time.
. Popular Science

Yes. Airplanes and cruise ships are both enclosed vessels, but they differ in that aircraft environments are much more controlled. According to the CDC, most viruses and germs don’t spread easily on airplanes because of how air circulates and is filtered.

And it’s also a matter of odds, really. The population on a large cruise is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 people (not including the crew), whereas a trans-Atlantic flight from New York City to London on a British Airways 747, for example, will only have around 300 passengers on board.

Because cruise ships house a larger number of people who are in frequent and close contact with each other, getting COVID-19 from an infected person is statistically more likely. Still, the CDC’s preventive guidelines for crew members and passengers do not differ much from the basic ones we should all be following.

And even though the likelihood of infection while flying is low, don’t think you should forgo preventive measures. The biggest risk you run on an airplane is close contact with sick passengers, especially because you don’t have much control over where you sit. If you find yourself in this situation, know that flying on the same plane as a COVID-19 patient doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be infected—it’s all about proximity.

According to the CDC, you’re at medium risk of infection if you’re seated in the immediate radius of a sick person—up to two seats in every direction (about 6 feet). Anywhere beyond that is considered low to very low risk.

If you’re still nervous about sharing an closed environment with so many people for a handful of hours, know the same preventive guidelines apply here as in any other situation. And disinfectant wipes and alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol are always good ideas.

What do I do if I can't get back into the country?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of question that falls into no man’s land, mainly because there are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to return to the US after traveling. The main one, according to Pauline Frommer, a travel expert and editorial director of Frommer’s guidebooks, is a lack of coordination between the U.S. government and service providers such as airlines.

“The Trump administration has, in the past, been very unorganized in the way it has dealt with the travel industry,” she says. “Look at what they did with [the travel ban to] Cuba—instead of giving cruise ships advanced warning that they were going to disallow a travel to Cuba, they instituted the ban overnight.”

That announcement caught thousands of people midway to the Caribbean island and many ships had to turn around or house passengers on board for way longer than expected before everything was sorted and they could return to the US.

There’s no telling how the virus will continue to spread, what measures governments will take, or how they’ll impact Americans abroad. If you’re traveling and the country or city you’re in gets quarantined, your safest bet is to follow instructions from local authorities and, if possible, ask for help at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. If the airline you’re flying abruptly cancels flights back home, they have to provide a solution. Whether that’s an alternate flight itinerary or another method of transportation will depend on the reasons why your original flight was cancelled. From here on out, it’s just a guessing game.

What should you do if you get sick overseas?

Curling up under the blankets and staying inside is a great option if you get sick on vacation, no matter what you've got.
. Popular Science

First of all, be extremely careful not to spread the disease any further. Seek medical attention and avoid contact with people as much as possible. If you have to go outside, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and cover your nose and mouth. Wear a mask if you can—this is the right situation for one. After that, you’re in the hands of local authorities and subject to whatever measures they’re taking with infected patients—possibly quarantine in a specific facility or some other kind of isolation. Then you should notify the nearest local embassy or consulate about your condition.

American COVID-19 patients on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan, and other U.S. citizens in other parts of the world, have been repatriated by the State Department. However, it is important to know that if you get sick while abroad, you may not be able to count on the agency coming to the rescue.

“While the U.S. government has successfully evacuated hundreds of our citizens in recent weeks. Such repatriation flights do not reflect our standard practice and should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under potential risk of quarantine by local authorities,” Ian G. Brownlee, the secretary for consular affairs at the State Department, said at a CDC press conference on February 21.

American citizens are still under the care of local officials in Japan, so it’s still unclear what boxes must be checked for repatriation.

I’m going to a country that hasn’t had any cases of COVID-19 yet. Should I still worry?

No. According to the CDC, you should still follow the general prevention guidelines mentioned above, but you should only consider cancelling or rescheduling your trip if you don’t feel comfortable traveling.

Does travel insurance cover any medical costs if I get sick abroad?

In general, if you bought travel insurance and got sick during your trip, yes, you should be reimbursed for all (or a percentage of) medical costs related to your particular illness. This is how insurance works.

But, if you have travel insurance and contracted COVID-19, your policy will not cover it. Sorry. Generally insurance coverage does not extend to what are called “named events.” Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and epidemics, including COVID-19, all qualify as such.

“Say you're going to the Caribbean and you didn't buy insurance,” Frommer says. “And then a hurricane is forecasted. If you try to get insurance, they will not sell it to you because that's considered a named event.”

But there’s something to keep in mind here—COVID-19 was declared a named event on Jan. 22. So, technically speaking, if you have any expenses associated with COVID-19 (such as medical treatment, emergency evacuation, or flight delays) and you bought insurance before that date, it’s possible you’d still be able to file a claim. If you bought your insurance after that, there’s nothing you can do.

Better safe than sorry: Let’s cancel some plans

What are your refund or ticket-changing rights as a consumer?

Flight got cancelled? You might still be able to get your money back.
. Popular Science

This is another question that lives in no man’s land, mainly because every airline has its own guidelines. Even within each airline, different policies sometimes apply to different tickets. So, when you buy a ticket, you’re basically agreeing to play by the airline’s rules.

“[As consumers] I don't think we have any rights when it comes to situations like this one,” says Rick Steves, travel writer and owner of Rick Steves’ Europe. “It's just how aggressive airlines want to be.”

Frommer has a similar outlook. “For many destinations, if you try to cancel travel right now, most airlines will not give you your money back,” she says. “It is considered that you are canceling because you’re afraid of traveling, and you’re usually not covered in those cases.”

But things are changing. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, bookings for flights, hotels, tours, and cruises have dropped dramatically. This has made airlines way more flexible—some have even lowered ticket prices and waived itinerary change and rescheduling fees if you stay in the same cabin class.

“What we're seeing is panic in the travel industry, and so many sellers are putting forth deals that allow people to cancel because they've seen their bookings fall off a cliff,” Frommer says.

Airlines have adopted April 30 as somewhat of a deadline, so if you have a flight between now and then, it’s likely you qualify for a fee waiver. Of course, this will depend solely on the airline you’re flying, so the first step will be to contact them directly and see what they’re offering.

How far ahead should you book travel with the disease going around?

There’s a short answer for this one: it’s unclear.

“It's a really difficult situation,” Steves says. “There's no way to know how's going to pan out.”

Since the COVID-19 situation is changing so rapidly, it is hard to know exactly when to reschedule your trip for. The (somewhat) good news, Frommer says, is that the outbreak of coronavirus has hit the tourism industry so hard that right now is a pretty good time to take a leap and book a vacation.

“If you are nervous, you'll probably get a very good deal and a rock-solid guarantee that if things get worse you'll be able to get all your money back,” she says.

Worst-case scenario, you end up locked up at home avoiding a virus and watching Netflix. Best-case scenario, you’re sunbathing on some Greek island. There are worse deals.

Written by Sandra Gutierrez G. for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Popular Science

Independence Pass Bouldering

Intro

Nestled far enough away from the weekend crowds of Denver but only minutes outside of Aspen, Independence Pass is a bouldering jewel in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The many glacially carved bouldering venues are situated on the highest paved pass in the state. Keep elevation in mind, if you’re coming from lower land. The trails to the myriad of bouldering areas can be as short as parking amongst them to a 30-minute hike uphill. The vast majority bouldering areas are no more than a five minute hike along moderate to easy terrain. 

What Makes It Great

If time and energy levels allow, try to experience as many boulder clusters as you can. A long weekend would give you a good taste of the variety of rock and styles of bouldering offered. 

This is a Wilderness land so a leave no trace ethic should be followed and dogs need to be leashed. There are many campgrounds, picnic areas, a ghost town, and countless hikes. Be prepared for the afternoon thunderstorms and possibly chilly evenings while camping. There are bears in this area but they should leave you alone as long as you store your food properly. Watch out for fast moving cars and cyclists when you move in between pullouts. Share the road with the cyclists. 

Keep in mind, Independence Pass is closed from early November to Memorial Day.   There are many pullouts used to access the boulders.

Visit independencebouldering.com or purchase the Independence Rock Climbing II guidebook, for detailed maps, at the Ute Mountaineer. Here are some of the top bouldering sites along Independence Pass: 

Upperboulderfield – The popular area to warm-up since there is no hike and perfect landings.  

The Egg/Philosophers Corner/The Omelette –  This cluster of boulders has a short easy hike and the Egg is one of the best freestanding boulders in the state. Home to around 40 mostly outstanding problems with good landings this area is not to be missed.  

The Ineditable/Grotto Wall Area – The classic Ineditable boulder, and the surrounding talus field under the Grotto Walls has dozens of problems with some tricky landings. Bring a few more pads.  

Sunset Boulder and Surrounding Area – The massive Sunset boulder and surrounding boulder field have many good problems and a lot more potential. 

Bicep Wall –  These spectacular walls have a few of the more classic hard problems on the Pass.  Multiple tiers of short granite walls allow for a fun variety of climbs with perfect landings.

Who is Going to Love It

Climbers who want to enjoy a variety of bouldering in an alpine setting.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Bouldering areas along Highway 82 (Independence Pass) are found throughout the 19.7 miles from Aspen to the top of the pass. Please visit Visit independencebouldering.com for detailed directions to bouldering areas.

Written by Leah Fielding for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Mark Donoher

Green Mountain

Intro

At 8,144 ft. Green Mountain is the most accessible of the “big three” Boulder summits (the others being 8,461 ft. Bear Peak and 8,549 ft. South Boulder Peak). The standard trailhead for a hike up Green is located in town at the base of Gregory Canyon on the perimeter of Chautauqua Park. While none of the trails that lead to the top are technical, there is 2,278 feet of elevation to be gained in a compact 3.2- mile route (6.4 miles round trip). The wickedly steep Amphitheater Trail is an instant lung-buster, featuring a quarter mile start of well-maintained stone steps that get your heart rate racing before you’ve left sight of the parking lot. Thankfully, the namesake amphitheater rock formations are at the beginning of the trail and make for a nice excuse to take a photo — and catch your breath. 

What Makes It Great

Because of its easy access, Green makes a wonderful hike in any season. Winter is a special treat, not only for the serene, brisk atmosphere but also for the opportunity to look out upon Colorado’s scenic landscape adorned in its winter palette. Summer treks offer an escape from heat, gradually getting cooler at higher elevations. You may see locals jogging up Green or training with overloaded backpacks — it’s a favorite destination for those aiming to get stronger. It’s a tough hike, but certainly doable by anyone with a modest level of fitness and a little bit of perseverance. And despite being within city limits, you’ll feel like you’re a world away, immersed in the piney, rocky wilderness.

A second option starting from Gregory Canyon is the Gregory Canyon Trail, a suspiciously flat path that offers a brief warm up before matching the rugged steepness of the neighboring Amphitheater Trail. Both trails are decorated with gorgeous rock formations, shady woods and humble, seasonal creeks. Eventually, the two paths converge and join up in a burly path to the summit. There are several excellent viewpoints along the way, including great spots to look down upon the University of Colorado campus and 6,843 ft. Mount Sanitas

The final push to the top twists through one final rock garden before concluding at a welcoming, flat summit. A crowning boulder rises above the gnarly pine trees and affords 360-degree views; on a clear day, you can see from Pikes Peak in the south to the Medicine Bow Peaks of Wyoming to the north. A summit register and a brass disk showing a 3-D chart of the neighboring mountains give added value to the great views. In late summer, don’t be surprised to see a living armor of ladybugs clinging to the rocks.

From the top of Green, you can return via the Gregory Canyon trails or continue on along the southwest side of Green along the Green-Bear trail, so named because it connects Green Mountain and Bear Peak, not because of the presence of green bears. This is Green Mountain’s secret side, a less-traveled place that is notorious for fields of brightly colored alpine flowers. Even on busy weekends, this tends to be one of Boulder’s quietest places.

There’s also a good chance of spotting some of the local wildlife: black bears, mountain lions, peregrine falcons, elk, deer and coyote all call these foothills home. Eventually, this trail connects to the popular Mesa Trail, a well-traveled 6.7-mile path that skirts the base of the high peaks from Chautauqua Park to Eldorado Springs. From here, you can continue on to Bear Peak (and beyond) or circle back to Chautauqua and make a hearty loop.

Who is Going to Love It

Hikers looking for a genuine mountain day right in town will love Green’s accessibility. And it’s good to go year round!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

 To reach the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, take Baseline Road west from the intersection with Highway 93 (Broadway) and go 1.4 miles up the road. You will pass Chautauqua Park on your left. Gregory Canyon Parking is at the base of the steep Flagstaff Hill Road; take a left before you begin ascending the road. Note: As of 2015, this trailhead is closed for repairs due to the 2013 floods. Please park a short distance back at Chautauqua Park or along Baseline Road in the designated parking areas. 

Non-Boulder residents must pay $5 for parking at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead — though it’s possible to park for free on Baseline Road. You’ll just have a short walk to the trailhead. 

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by James Dziezynski

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