Outreach Safety Measures in the Age of CoVid-19

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Outreach Safety Measures in the Age of CoVid-19

Post by Bsimon » Sun Mar 08, 2020 11:26 am

Call it what you will - Corona Virus, CoVid 19, Kung Flu. or a host of other names, CoronaVirus is uppermost in the news. While I personally think that the reaction has been a bit too much, particularly when it is compared to morbidity and mortality figures for influenza every year and as it relates to past major viruses and or plagues. The current reaction, this hysteria, has affected major markets, transportation, vacations, public outings, employment, savings, etc. and the list goes on. Thinking about all of these issues this morning got me thinking about astronomy outreach that I do, that my club does and what other clubs and individuals do. Specifically what do we do and what should we do when we are engaged in public outreach with dozens if not hundreds of people looking thru the eyepieces of our telescopes, shaking our hands and doing other things (such as sneezing) which may run the spectrum from a brief tickle, an allergic reaction to pollen in the air or an indicator of an infection which as unlikely as it may be, could be a symptom of Corona Virus.

So how can the virus be spread? From the internet I learned this -

How Corona Virus (COVID-19) Spreads

Person-to-person - primary pathway to infection. Typically close contact (6 feet or less)

This is via respiratory droplets produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes.
Entry from the host to someone new is thought to be typically via the mouth, nose or eyes.

People are most contagious when they are symptomatic, but an asymptomatic person can spread the virus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects (telescope eyepieces perhaps?)
The virus then may spread via indirect contact - from an infected person to an eyepiece and then from that surface to someone else that comes in contact with the infected surface. No different in comparison to the spread of many other viruses.

How easily can Corona Virus (COVID-19) be spread?

This can vary. Some viruses are very contagious. Measles for one. Others do not spread easily. Additionally a factor is whether the spread is continually being spread (sustained continually without stopping). Unfortunately the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) appears to be one that is easily spread.

I do a lot of semi-retired/part-time work as a surgical implant consultant in various hospitals. I am in the Operating Room for implant cases typically about twice a week. One of the hospitals that I regularly cover cases at will institute a new screening program tomorrow morning (March 9th) whereby everyone entering the hospital will be screened for Corona Virus. Basically screening will involve asking anyone entering the hospital a series of questions about recent travel and symptoms and whether they have had contact with someone suspected of having contracted Corona Virus. The hospital will have fewer entry points. I anticipate that this process will slow entry into the hospital and I have to plan for that. In addition, after I enter the hospital I have to log in on a computer where I use a keyboard and a mouse that dozens of other people use every day for the same purpose. This then likely could be a major source of any infection that I could possibly get.

So how does this all affect us as amateur astronomers that do Outreach Programs?

So as with my contact with the computer and the mouse at the hospitals, we all need to be aware that when we do outreach programs we expose our equipment and ourselves to large numbers of people who could, likely not, but could have active viruses (be it the common cold or something more severe). When they snuggle their eyes up to an eyepiece or sneeze or cough in your proximity you have to wonder - do they or don't they have something that could be transmitted to you and to others?

So what should we do - give up on Outreach Events for awhile? Probably not. Should we wear HAZMAT suits to outreach events, decontaminate focusers and eyepieces after each attendee touches something? (Where are our Greek friends with their bottles of Windex?) Probably not. However fist bumps or a Mr. Spock "Live long and prosper" greeting may be a good alternatives to hand shakes. We should continue to monitor and discourage the touching of eyepieces and maybe focusers. ( I will generally operate a focuser and have the observer tell me when the view is improving to the point of being sharp.) We should listen for people coughing and sneezing and we should discourage people who think they may be contagious from attending an outreach event. Does anyone have a tactful announcement that can be used at an Outreach Event to advice people that think they may be sick to not look thru a telescope via snuggling up to a short eye relief eyepiece? I for one will be at least attempting to use long eye relief eyepieces only. I will also bring and use hand sanitzer or disinfecting wipes.

Other suggestions and thoughts?

Barry Simon

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