A Doctor’s Take on Getting Back Open

Want to get museums and performance venues going again? Keep those masks on and invest in better ventilation.

That’s the advice of Dr. Robert Haley, professor of internal medicine and director of the division of Epidemiology in the Internal Medicine Department at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“Masking is key to restoring our arts and our economy,” he told arts stakeholders in a recent online workshop about safely reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus that causes COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets that travel when speaking, laughing, shouting, singing, coughing, or sneezing, Haley said. 

He added that being outdoors helps dilute the virus. 

When not outdoors, adequate ventilation is essential, he said. 

Installing ultraviolet (UV) lights in the HVAC ducts can help, too, he said.

Haley also answered questions during the workshop, including:

PN: You said both in your presentation, we might be wearing masks forever, but that if we wear masks for a month and are really good about distancing, we could essentially eradicate the virus. Could you talk about how both of those things could be true?

Dr. Haley: The audience is going to have to wear masks for the duration. I can’t see any way around that, even if they’re distanced. And it may be that we can crowd more people in if they’re wearing masks. That really remains to be determined and needs to be carefully considered… The performers, certainly dance, I think they could eventually relax their masking because they’re not talking.

PN: How long can the virus stay in the air?

Dr. Haley: Nobody really knows exactly, but from epidemiologic studies and from outbreaks… most of them are related to bars, social events, family get-togethers – -that’s where most of our epidemics come from…It can stay in the room probably an hour, I would say. Nobody really knows the answer, but it’s got to be longer than just a few seconds or just a few minutes, but probably no longer than a couple of hours or so… It can live on shiny surfaces for three or four days; it can live on fabrics probably a day.

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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