Tag: Beaches

Bird Flu Is Infecting More Mammals. What Does That Mean for Us?

H5N1, an avian flu virus, has killed tens of thousands of marine mammals, and infiltrated American livestock for the first time. Scientists are working quickly to assess how it is evolving and how much of a risk it poses to humans.

Do We Still Need to Keep Wearing Masks Outdoors?

Science shows that the risk of viral transmission outside is very low. The “two-out-of-three rule” can help you decide whether to mask up.

As more people get vaccinated and spring weather and sunshine beckon us outdoors, one question may be nagging at you: Do we still need to wear masks outside?

More than a year into pandemic life, many people remain confused about the risk of spending time outdoors around other people. A growing body of research shows that transmission of Covid-19 is far less likely outdoors than inside, and the risk will get even lower as more people get vaccinated and cases continue to decline. But many states have yet to lift strict outdoor mask mandates. In Massachusetts, for instance, outdoor masking is required at all times, even when nobody else is around.

Recently the online magazine Slate stirred controversy when it suggested an end to outdoor mask rules. The article won support from top public health experts and even The New England Journal of Medicine blog but prompted a fierce backlash from readers, who noted that while the risk of outdoor transmission may be low, it’s not zero.

“Shallow and selfish take,” wrote one reader on Twitter. “You have blood on your hands. You should feel ashamed,” posted another.

After a year in which many of us have learned to dutifully wear masks and look askance at anyone who does not, it’s understandable that people remain fearful when they cross paths with the unmasked. So how do you make the right decision about when to wear a mask outside?

Many virus and public health experts say the guidance hasn’t changed — spending time with others outside during the pandemic has always been safer than indoors. But whether a mask is needed outdoors depends on the circumstances, including local public health rules. Brief encounters with an unmasked person passing you on the sidewalk or a hiking trail are very low risk, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Viral particles quickly disperse in outdoor air, and the risk of inhaling aerosolized virus from a jogger or passers-by are negligible, she said. Even if a person coughs or sneezes outside as you walk by, the odds of you getting a large enough dose of virus to become infected remain low, she said.

“I think the guidelines should be based on science and practicality,” said Dr. Marr. “People only have so much bandwidth to think about precautions. I think we should focus on the areas that have highest risk of transmission, and give people a break when the risk is extremely low.”

Dr. Marr uses a simple two-out-of-three rule for deciding when to wear a mask. In every situation, she makes sure she’s meeting two out of three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked. “If you’re outdoors, you either need to be distanced or masked,” she said. “If you’re not outdoors, you need to be distanced and masked. This is how I’ve been living for the past year. It all comes down to my two-out-of-three rule.”

Use the 2-out-of-3 Rule

To lower risk for Covid-19, make sure your activity meets two out of the following three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked.

Outdoors + Distanced = No Mask Needed

Outdoors + No Distance = Mask Needed

Not Outdoors + Distanced = Mask Needed

When masks are needed outdoors

If you stop to have an extended conversation with someone who isn’t vaccinated, masks are recommended. Even outdoors, your risk of breathing someone else’s air increases the longer and closer you stand to them. One of the few documented cases of outdoor transmission happened in China early in the pandemic, when a 27-year-old man stopped to chat outside with a friend who had just returned from Wuhan, where the virus originated. Seven days later, he had his first symptoms of Covid-19.

And masks are still advised if you find yourself in an outdoor crowd. Standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers during an outdoor concert or a protest could increase risk, particularly for the unvaccinated.

Recently while hiking without a mask, Dr. Marr said she still made an effort to keep her distance from large groups when the trail got crowded.

“If I was passing by a solo hiker it didn’t concern me,” said Dr. Marr. “But if I passed by a group of 10 hikers in a row, I stepped further off the path. The risk is still low, but at some point there could be a large enough pack of people that the risk could become appreciable.”

When outdoor risk is lowest

Walking your dog, riding a bike, hiking on a trail or picnicking with members of your household or vaccinated friends are all activities where the risk for virus exposure is negligible. In these kinds of situations, you can keep a mask on hand in your pocket, in case you find yourself in a crowd or need to go indoors.

“I think it’s a bit too much to ask people to put the mask on when they go out for a walk or jogging or cycling,” said Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer of infectious disease and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland, where outdoor masking has never been required. “We’re in a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks should not have been mandated at all. It’s not where the infection and transmission occurs.”

“Let me go for my run, maskless. Mask in pocket,” tweeted Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and the medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center. “Given how conservative I have been on my opinions all year, this should tell you how low risk is, in general, for outdoors transmission for contact over short periods — and lower still after vaccination. Keep the masks on you for when you are stationary in a crowd and headed indoors.”

To understand just how low the risk of outdoor transmission is, researchers in Italy used mathematical models to calculate the amount of time it would take for a person to become infected outdoors in Milan. They imagined a grim scenario in which 10 percent of the population was infected with Covid-19. Their calculations showed that if a person avoided crowds, it would take, on average, 31.5 days of continuous outdoor exposure to inhale a dose of virus sufficient to transmit infection.

“The results are that this risk is negligible in outdoor air if crowds and direct contact among people are avoided,” said Daniele Contini, senior author of the study and an aerosol scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Lecce, Italy.

Even as more-infectious virus variants circulate, the physics of viral transmission outdoors haven’t changed, and the risk of getting infected outdoors is still low, say virus experts. Pay attention to the rates of infection in your community. If case counts are surging, your risk of encountering an infected person goes up.

When outdoor fun moves indoors

Dr. Cevik notes that debates about outdoor masking and articles showing photos of crowded beaches during the pandemic have left people with the wrong impression that parks and beaches are unsafe, and distracted from the much higher risks of indoor transmission. Often it’s the indoor activities associated with outdoor fun — like traveling unmasked in a subway or car to go hiking, or dropping into a pub after spending time at the beach — that pose the highest risk. “People hold barbecues outdoors, but then they spend time indoors chatting in the kitchen,” said Dr. Cevik.

As more people get vaccinated, decisions about going maskless outdoors will get easier. While no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, the rate of breakthrough infections so far has been exceedingly low. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported just 5,800 cases of breakthrough infections among 75 million vaccinated people. And the C.D.C. has said vaccinated friends and family members can safely spend time together, without masks.

But it’s OK to keep wearing your mask outdoors if you prefer it. After a year of taking pandemic precautions, it may be hard for people to adjust to less restrictive behaviors. Sarit A. Golub, a psychology professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said it’s important for both the media and public health officials to communicate the reasons people can modify some behaviors, like outdoor masking.

“In the coming months, ‘normal life’ will begin to become safer, but I worry that some people won’t be willing or able to relax pandemic restrictions in ways that makes sense,” Dr. Golub said. “I worry that folks have internalized the fear messaging without understanding the reasons behind specific behavioral recommendations, and therefore, the reasons that they can be modified as circumstances change.”

Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said he recently was with a group of parents, including many vaccinated physicians, who met in a New Haven park to celebrate a child’s first birthday. “We’re all just standing around, everybody was masked, and then we started asking, ‘When’s the time we can be outside and take off our masks?’” Dr. Gonsalves said. “If people are vaccinated and you’re outdoors, masks are probably superfluous at this point.”

But Dr. Gonsalves said he understands why some people may be reluctant to give up their masks outdoors. “Some of this is Covid hangover,” he said. “We’ve been so traumatized by all of this. I think we need to have a little bit of compassion for the people having trouble letting go.”

Illustrations by Eden Weingart

How to Pretend You’re in Tunis Tonight

Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.
Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Tunis Tonight

The Tunisian capital beckons with white-sand beaches, the medina, cafe districts and Roman ruins that speak to its place in history. Luckily, there are ways to capture its spirit at home.

Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

Sebastian Modak

  • Jan. 12, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

There are worse places to be lost than the old medina of Tunis, a dizzying labyrinth of ancient alleyways. As I discovered on my visit to the Tunisian capital, there is so much to look at: the vendors doling out spices, the cats watching the afternoon pass from sun-soaked stoops, the groups of friends sitting around crowded tables and sipping mint tea. You might pass the open window of a traditional music school and hear snippets of a haunting song hundreds of years old or, out of another storefront, the thump of techno music accompanying an experimental art exhibition.

From left: Shopping in the old medina of Tunis, swimming at a Carthage beach, and the ruins of ancient Carthage.
From left: Shopping in the old medina of Tunis, swimming at a Carthage beach, and the ruins of ancient Carthage.Credit… Andy Haslam for The New York Times (left and far right); Mohamed Messara/EPA, via Shutterstock (center)

It is hard to believe that all of this exists in just one corner of a sprawling, cosmopolitan and complex city on the tip of North Africa. Elsewhere, there are nightclubs that spill out onto white-sand beaches, cafe districts that wouldn’t be out of place in southern Europe, and Roman ruins that speak to its place in history as a gateway to Africa and a center of Mediterranean commerce. It is a lot to take in over a single visit, and I am looking forward to my next one. In the meantime, I will be following these tips to make it feel as if I am back in Tunis, even if just for a night.

Cook with harissa

Tunisian cuisine is sometimes hearty, other times delicate. It can be spicy, but is not afraid of a little sweetness. It is also brimming with history. Arabs, Romans, Sicilians, Byzantines, Berbers and more have all, at one point or another, called this land on the Mediterranean home, and that is all on display come mealtime. Rafram Chaddad, an artist and food researcher, spends much of his time tracing that history, with a special interest in the food culture of Tunisian Jews like his own family. He consulted multiple old recipes to come up with this one, for a pan-fried sea bass with dried rose petals and harissa, a ubiquitous hot chile paste. Featured in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem,” a collection of recipes from around the world that converge in that city, Mr. Chaddad’s recipe highlights the importance of seafood to Tunis’s food scene.

A Tunisian woman preparing harissa.Credit…Mohamed Messara/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Fish in the Tunisian sea are special,” said Mr. Chaddad, who grew up in Jerusalem and recently returned to Tunis, pointing out that the hot temperatures and shallow depths make for a special flavor. “The seafood here is kissed by the sun.” While you might not be able to get your hands on bona fide Tunisian sea bass, the flavors — the way the spiciness of the harissa plays with the perfumes of the rose petals — are evocative enough of the city’s cuisine.

Make sure the egg is runny

For a snack, Mr. Chaddad recommends brik a l’oeuf, a deep-fried cousin to the dumpling, filled with some combination of tuna, potatoes, onions, capers, harissa (because of course), and, the star, a runny egg yolk that will drip all over your plate at the very first bite. His recipe, also included in “Jerusalem,” was featured in a write-up from the travel website Roads and Kingdoms, alongside an iteration from a Tunisian grandmother. Sarah Souli, a journalist whose associations with Tunisia’s capital are closely linked to visits with her grandmother, told me that she wouldn’t dare try it on her own, even if she encourages others who want a taste of Tunis to do so.

“I don’t cook brik at home because I think longing is an important part of loving,” Ms. Souli said. “I’ll wait till I can go back to Tunis and Memeti, my grandmother, makes me one.”

From left: Tastes of Tunis, including a traditionally prepared couscous dish, fish at a market and sweets.Credit…Photographs by Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Or put in an order

If the thought of cooking up your own Tunisian pastries is too daunting and you happen to be in the United States, you can order a box of them. Layla’s Delicacies, based in New Jersey, ships boxes of pastries across the country to Tunisians who miss the taste of home.

“Traditionally made by hand at home, Tunisian pastries are made with the noblest ingredients, and take an incredible amount of time and attention to detail,” said Rim Ben Amara, the company’s founder.

While the pastries are most common at gatherings, there’s no shame in digging into a box on your own. For something that you would come across in Tunis, try kaak warka, a doughnut-shaped treat filled with almond paste and rose water, or samsa, a triangle-shaped sweet pastry encrusted with pistachios and filled with almonds and hazelnuts.

The Bardo Museum, a converted mansion, houses one of the largest collections of Roman murals in the world.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

Take a museum tour

Tunis is brimming with history: the mausoleums of the medina that have remained unchanged for centuries; the Roman ruins at the original site of Carthage, in the city’s northeastern suburbs; and the Bardo Museum, a sprawling 19th-century palace that is home to one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. While there is nothing like seeing them in person, you can get a sense of the scale and craftsmanship of the ancient artwork through a virtual tour that allows you to roam the palace’s halls at your own pace.

But don’t forget the contemporary art scene

You also should get a sense of the contemporary art scene, which can be found in art galleries and pop-up events across the city. Dora Dalila Cheffi, a Finnish-Tunisian artist, paints brightly-colored tableaus, often inspired by the city she now calls home. Some of her work can be viewed online. Scenes from across the city are interspersed with more esoteric interpretations of Tunisian life.

“The slow pace of life, light and general atmosphere are great for the type of work I do,” she said, describing how her work has evolved over time. “There is less scenery now, but that doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t talk about life in Tunisia. If anything, it does so even more.”

Ms. Cheffi also recommends transporting yourself to the city through the work of a street art duo, ST4 the project. Their work can be seen not only in Tunis but also in other cities around the world, as they weave homegrown influences into their work to create connections across borders. “They use Arabic lettering and, as the work evolves, the letters transform more and more into an abstract and universal language,” Ms. Cheffi said.

Sidi Bou Said, a scenic town on the outskirts of Tunis, is popular with tourists for its white and blue buildings and views of the Mediterranean. Credit…Andy Haslam for The New York Times

Get cozy

While the fouta, a handwoven towel, has its roots in the hammam, or public bathhouses, and are commonplace today along Tunisia’s beaches, they’re just as useful as a cozy throw at home. Fouta Harissa works with artisans who spend hours spinning the cotton towels on looms that have been passed down through generations.

“I always pack a few when I travel — to give as gifts (along with a jar of harissa), and also as my one-and-done accessory,” said Fouta Harissa’s co-founder, Lamia Hatira. “It’s a wrap, a sarong, a beach towel or a blanket depending on my destination.” It’s a versatile accessory — even when that destination is your living room couch.

From left: The old British Embassy in Tunis, which has been converted into a hotel, the Royal Victoria; the rapper 4lLFA performing in Gammarth, a suburb; and the Tunis medina.Credit…Andy Haslam for The New York Times (left); Sebastian Modak/The New York Times (center and far right)

Wind down with some music

Finally, it is time to unplug with the sounds of Tunis. For an introduction to Tunisian music, check out this radio broadcast, featuring a wide survey of traditional genres and an interview with a Tunisian percussionist. If it is current sounds you are after, Emily Sarsam, a cultural programmer in Tunis and one of the hosts of the aforementioned radio show, recommends “Lila Fi Tounes” by Deena Abdelwahed, an experimental and electronic rendition of the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia.”

Ms. Sarsam, along with Ms. Cheffi, also recommends the work of Souhayl Guesmi, a composer who releases music under the name Ratchopper. A frequent collaborator with some of Tunisia’s biggest rappers, his solo albums are ethereal and full of barely contained energy — much like the city of Tunis itself.


How are you going to channel the spirit of Tunis in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

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