Comics festivals are important to many of us for lots of reasons. They build community, provide educational and business opportunities, promote engagement between readers and creators, and bring us together to celebrate the medium in all its forms! Unfortunately, like all public gatherings, fests are an opportunity for illness to spread.
The Coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) outbreak has caused the cancellation and postponement of comics events like the Emerald City Comic Con where some exhibitors had decided to pull out of the event and Reedpop, after consulting with and following the guidance of Seattle health officials, decided to postpone the show until the summer. This is obviously a huge economic and emotional blow for the Seattle comics community. It’s also a blow to all of us as we consider the health, safety, and financial impact that COVID-19 is going to have on the comics world!
It seems likely that many large public comics events will be delayed or postponed until the spread of COVID-19 is contained. When we can get back together at cons, some people may still be anxious about their health. How can we celebrate comics with friends and strangers and stay safe and healthy? I’ve got some tips!
I’m not a public health official. I’m not a doctor. It’s not my place to tell you whether to avoid or attend upcoming public events. That is your decision. I can think of many good reasons to go, and many good reasons to stay away.
I have worked for years in clinical and hospital settings, using the same techniques as the doctors and nurses on staff to keep myself and my patients from picking up and sharing other peoples’ germs. What I can do is offer some tips for minimizing your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and/or passing it on to others.
But first – The information I’m working from is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. If you want more detail, check it out. I also asked three doctors – Beth Hochman, Steven Lee-Kong, and Benjamin Schwartz (also a cartoonist!) at Columbia University Medical Center – to review this article for me. The advice is sound.
And second – if you are an older adult or if you are immune compromised, this information is NOT for you. Check out the CDC website and talk to a healthcare provider about your particular situation before making the decision to attend public events.
And third – I’m not going to tell you that if you do what I say, you’re guaranteed not to get coronavirus. Odds are that some people will do everything right and still get sick and some people will do everything wrong and NOT get sick. Is it fate? Luck? Who knows? Not me! But if you want to engage in public events and do your best to protect yourself and your comics pals as best you can, I can help you with that!
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
If a COVID-19 outbreak happens in your community, depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce exposures to COVID-19. These actions can be anything from cancelling events to providing hand sanitizing stations, depending on the situation. Some events will close anyway. If a contagion situation in a community is dire, public health officials can enforce cancellation of events that they think will make you sick. Depending on the situation in your community, some events might happen on schedule. Are you trying to decide whether or not to go to a public event? Here are some guidelines.
If you are sick with a cold, a flu, or COVID-19, STAY HOME. If you have an infectious disease you could spread it. Even if you aren’t spreading anything, your coughing, nose blowing, and sweaty palms are going to freak people out and they are going to give you dirty looks. If your illness is not infectious, your immune system is in a vulnerable state and may make you more susceptible to other people’s germs. STAY HOME.1.
If you don’t want to go to a public or group event, DON’T GO! The anxiety may not be worth it.
If you do want to go to an event, make sure you take appropriate precautions.
HOW TO BEHAVE AT A COMICS FESTIVAL
- NO HANDSHAKES, HUGGING, OR KISSING – The CDC says to avoid close contact with people who are sick. But how do you know if someone is sick? You don’t. Sometimes people can be infected with a virus but not have symptoms. Or someone could be healthy but has just touched the sneezed-in hand of a sick person. Don’t shake that hand! If you care for someone do not touch them without permission and feel free to ask them not to touch you.
I suggest you treat everyone with kindness and respect, which means no handshakes, hugging, or kissing.
- DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! (Without washing your hands first.) Do you know how hard that is to do? Really hard! Practice!
- MOVE AWAY – if you are about to sneeze or cough, move at least 6 feet away from everyone just in case your elbow doesn’t keep your snotty sneeze droplets completely out of the air. If someone is not covering their cough or sneeze, you should be okay if you stand roughly 6 feet away from them.
COVER UP – Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow. If you use your hand (even with a tissue or handkerchief in it), then the next thing you touch will be covered in whatever it was you cough/sneezed out!
NO CROWDED STUFFY ROOMS – Avoid crowds in poorly ventilated spaces. Cruddy pathogens can build up in crowded, closed, stagnant, air spaces. Fortunately, most of the convention spaces I’ve been to have good air circulation systems.
KEEP IT CLEAN – Hand sanitizers seem to work against COIV-19 but for a sanitizer to effectively kill germs, it needs to be at least 60% alcohol. Read the label before you spend money on those little bottles.
Hand washing with soap and water removes dirt and germs, while sanitizers kill most (but not all) germs without removing them. After hospital staff care for a patient with sanitizer-resistant infections, they take off their protective gear and then wash their hands with soap and water! Soap and water are awesome and cheap! Do it for at least 20 seconds! Often!
Sanitizer and soap/water will BOTH protect you from COVID-19. Use one or both methods often throughout the day and especially before and after eating, coughing or sneezing into your hands, touching your face, or touching high-touch surfaces in public spaces like elevator buttons, handrails, or comic books!
- WHAT ABOUT MASKS? Why do doctors, nurses, and surgeons wear facemasks? Usually to keep their own exhaled microbes from getting into the air and into their patients. Masks are for protecting patients from the germs of people around them. Wearing a mask doesn’t protect you from inhaling germs! If you are sick, wearing a facemask will help prevent exhaled snotty virus-filled droplets from getting into the air around you. I don’t care what movie stars wearing facemasks tell you: if you are not sick, wearing a facemask to a comics fest is not going to protect you from COVID-19.
If you’re not sick, don’t wear a mask.
WHO TO TRUST?
When it comes to public health data, I tend to rely on online information from the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and a few major hospital websites. The people working for these organizations have training in epidemiology and public health. Many of them are going to be the ones in contact with and caring for sick patients. They are giving us guidelines to protect their own health too, not just ours!
So, if you come across information that seems dubious, ask yourself what the source of the information stands to gain or lose. Can’t find a source for the original kernel of info? Beware! For more about trusting advice, check out my previous article on good or bad advice from friends and strangers. If you don’t want to read it, then the most important question to ask yourself is, “What could happen if this (undocumented) advice is wrong?”
WHAT IF I GET SICK?
If you get sick, don’t panic. Even if you have coronavirus, not everyone has to be hospitalized. Heck, some people will get sick and symptoms will be so mild they will never notice. You could be sick from all sorts of things like the flu, or a cold. Stay at home to keep from infecting others with whatever you’ve got, and take care of yourself! According to the CDC, “Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.”
And remember, you may never get COVID-19!
In Part 2, I’ll give some suggestions to comics makers tabling at events about how to make your table a healthier place for comics browsing!