Outdoors Better for Virus Protection, But Not for Heat Illness

With the pandemic far from over and temperatures soaring, spending more time in the outdoors may come with an additional risk—the heat. 

A local paramedic says that there has been an increase in calls for heat-related illnesses especially among the elderly. The source stated that since the start of the pandemic “the older population has been trying to do more work for themselves and are spending more time outdoors than they usually would.” 

Area restaurant owners and their patrons are also striving to find a balance ensuring safe dining opportunities both in terms of social distancing and environmental factors. With many area restaurants offering limited, or in some cases, no dine-in options, they have turned to using or expanding their outdoor space or creating completely new spaces for outdoor dining. Summer is full of opportunities to enjoy these outdoor spaces, but you must take proper precautions to avoid health-related incidents due to heat.  

Rik Squillari, owner of Harvest Thyme Modern Kitchen and Tavern in Davidsonville is doing everything he can to ensure his customers are taken care of. Outdoor dining is not something they typically offer, but under the circumstances, Squillari and his staff have added tables under the building’s awning with shade umbrellas.  

While the restaurant still offers limited indoor seating, Squillari says that many regulars who would usually prefer to sit inside have been choosing to dine outdoors. Squillari goes above and beyond for some of his older and at-risk customers who don’t do well in the heat or are nervous about being indoors. While the restaurant is currently not open for lunch he tells his customers that if they don’t feel comfortable dining indoors with others right now to give him a call: with 24 hours’ notice he will have lunch ready, giving them an opportunity to dine indoors before the restaurant opens to the public.  

Dr. Ron Elfenbein, owner of FirstCall Medical Center, says that as far as outdoor dining goes it’s all about looking at the big picture. Is it risky? The risk is higher than dining at home, but dining out can be done safely. In addition to suggestions of using hand sanitizer, wiping down tables, staff wearing masks, and proper distancing, he suggests restaurants use oscillating fans to circulate air as well as help keep staff and patrons cool.   

Elfenbein cautions against mixing alcohol and heat and encourages diners to avoid alcoholic drinks when outdoors on hot days or, at the very least, to drink ice water as well. He suggests staff and customers use cooling towels on their necks, under the collar, or over their heads. “Heat illnesses do not discriminate. Young people can get overheated as well,” he says.  

And one factor you may not have thought about is the effect of wearing a mask on your body’s ability to cool. Elfenbein says that given that facial coverings are hot and sweaty many people do get dehydrated more quickly while wearing them and therefore need to ensure they are staying cool and taking in liquids. 

Those working outdoors must be especially careful to stay on top of their hydration.  Elfenbein advises, “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Drink water continuously throughout the day.”