Best Practices For Staying Healthy During Con Season

by Brendan M. Allen

This Convention season, we’re dealing with more than the usual Con Crud. Oh, yes, you know Con Crud. It’s the cold, flu, or other super annoying bug that you picked up at a convention that either popped up in the middle of, or immediately following your convention experience. This year, there’s still all the usual suspects and one new, very scary addition: the COVID-19 strain of Coronavirus. 
Can you catch Coronavirus at a convention? Absolutely. Are there ways to avoid catching it? Also yes. At the end of the day, Coronavirus is, well, it’s a virus. It’s susceptible to all the same measures that prevent the spread of any other virus. 
That’s not to say Coronavirus isn’t serious. It is. Deadly serious, especially to populations with complex medical issues and compromised immune systems. But — and this is a HUGE but — there are some very simple measures you can take to help protect yourself from COVID-19, and Con Crud in general. 
I was asked to write this piece because I am acutely aware of the potential for spreading illness at gatherings like conventions. My four year old has a rare genetic condition called cystic fibrosis. We spend a lot of our time controlling exposure, and recognizing and avoiding scenarios where we can’t. Conventions can be tough. So can grocery stores. Also birthday parties, the subway, school events, the post office…
Conventions present ideal conditions for viruses and other nastiness to spread. It’s a perfect storm consisting of:

  • Large groups of people in a relatively confined space.
  • Lowered immune system responses, due to the stresses of travel, poor diet, lack of proper sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, and many other factors.
  • Guests and attendees from many different places, bringing a wide variety of bacteria and viruses into spaces that lack regional immunity. 
  • Lack of convenient, well stocked facilities to properly and regularly wash hands.

First off, let me point out that Coronavirus is not airborne. Let me say that again: You will not get Coronavirus from breathing the air around a person who is infected. Coronavirus is spread by person-to-person contact. There are two ways that happens. 
The first is when an infected person is in close contact with an uninfected person and the virus is transmitted by touch. The other way — and this is gross no matter what — is when respiratory droplets from the infected person come in contact with a mucus membrane of the uninfected. Or simply put, when someone just sneezed in your face.
In the CF community, we have a six foot rule. Six feet is about how far a sneeze or cough will send that nasty mucus right into an uninfected person’s eye, mouth, or nose. 
Six feet. SIX. Not five. A certain movie suggesting five feet was dumb, exploitative, and grossly inaccurate on so many levels. If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, no worries. Just remember, it’s six feet. SIX.
If you notice someone sniffling, sneezing, or coughing, stay six feet the hell away. If you are the sick person who is sniffling, sneezing, or coughing, STAY HOME and miss the convention. Failing that bit of common sense and minimal courtesy for your fellow humans, the very least (VERY LEAST) you can do as a decent human being is to cover your cough (preferably with your elbow and not your hand) and give your fellow attendees that six foot buffer.
Viruses are also potentially transmitted by touching surfaces and objects that have the virus on them, then touching your own mouth, nose, and eyes. This is not generally how viruses spread, but it is possible. 
Also, people can spread the virus before they start actually showing symptoms, but it’s generally accepted that folks are most contagious while they are symptomatic. 
There is no vaccine for Coronavirus, and no specific treatment for Coronavirus. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure. Here are some ways you can help limit risk during con season:

  • Avoid close contact with obviously sick people at convention.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth while at convention. 
  • If you are sick yourself, stay home. I cannot begin to express this one enough. 
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a receptacle and wash your hands. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects (laptops, phones…) and surfaces using an antiviral cleaning spray or wipe.

And, of course, wash your hands regularly. This seems like the simplest thing. So simple, in fact, that people regularly neglect to do it often enough or for long enough. 20-30 seconds with soap. Find a mnemonic. Sing a song. Count Mississippis or chimpanzees. Thirty seconds. As often as you possibly can. If you absolutely must use hand sanitizer instead of washing hands, make sure your hand sanitizer is effective against viruses, not just bacteria. The sanitizing solution should contain 60-90% alcohol. You will have to read the fine print. Hand washing is still the best practice, but the right sanitizer can be used between hand washing opportunities and if essential gear at a convention in the best of circumstances.

Face masks are not recommended for people who are well and trying to avoid respiratory diseases. People who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 can wear face masks to prevent the spread of disease to others, but again, if you are showing symptoms, staying home is always the first and best recommendation.
Please understand, I am in no way downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak or spread of COVID-19 — especially in populations with complex medical issues (like my son) and populations with compromised immune systems. My point is purely that we should be taking better care of ourselves and each other during Con season, school season, travel season, and every season. 
If you attend an event of any size where there are other people, wash your damn hands. Frequently. Properly. Get good sleep. Eat well. Shower. These are the things we do on a daily basis to keep my kid out of the hospital. These are the things you can do to protect yourself and your peers for the same reason. 
Welcome to a small, regular part of our everyday experience. We, as a family and also as part of a larger community, have to routinely evaluate and pass on travel and experiences that include groups of people; because the flu is hitting hard or one of the kids/parents that will be attending a birthday party has been sick, or because my little dude is starting to show signs that he might be coming down with something himself. 
Coronavirus is no joke. If you are in the slightest bit uncomfortable with the possibility of contracting this virus or bringing it home to your loved ones, do yourself a favor and stay home. Seriously. It won’t even be fun for you if you go into a scenario that makes you uncomfortable before you even hit the doors. But, on the flip side of that statement, if you do go, take care of yourself. Don’t take unnecessary risks and, again, wash your filthy, stinking hands
Coronavirus is scary. It may blow the hell up. Or it may pass. Do the healthy stuff anyway. It’s also effective against Con Crud

Also, please don’t take my word for any of this. The information is readily available from the CDC, the WHO, the Mayo Clinic, and dozens of other credible expert sources.
[Editor’s Note: At the moment, bigger shows like Emerald City Comic Con and SXSW have been postponed or cancelled outright as part of an effort to combat the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, the best practices outlined by Brendan are worth keeping in mind should the convention season get back on track and after COVID-19 is contained. As we love fandoms and conventions ourselves, we want everyone to stay safe.]

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