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Doctor gives advice on staying COVID-19 free during Georgia Bulldogs championship celebrations

There is a measurable difference, he says, between how the omicron variant spreads outdoors versus indoors.

ATLANTA — Georgia Bulldogs fans across the country, planning to travel to Athens on Saturday to take part in the celebrations of the football team’s national championship, are hearing some straight talk, and hopeful words of advice, from infectious disease experts. Even though the COVID-19 omicron variant is still spreading fast, chances are that most people should pretty much be safe from catching the virus at the celebrations that are outdoors.

11Alive talked Wednesday with a sports epidemiologist at Emory University's Oxford Campus, who said that - with the omicron variant, especially - there is a measurable difference in how it spreads indoors versus outdoors.

“Omicron is everywhere, right now,” said Dr. Zach Binney. “It’s not just limited to colleges, it’s spreading like wildfire, and it spreads very, very effectively and very, very fast. Even if you are vaccinated. We’ve seen it absolutely tear through, for example, football teams in the NFL, almost before you even know it’s there.”

Dr. Binney is aware of the rising numbers of COVID cases at UGA. UGA reports that there were at least 804 cases as of last week--the week of January 3--and that total was three times higher than it was the week before, and up from just 22 cases at the beginning of last month.

Dr. Binney said the tens of thousands of students and faculty and staff and alumni and others who are in Athens celebrating the Bulldogs’ national football championship, and those who will be arriving for the Saturday celebrations, should know that omicron doesn’t spread as easily outdoors as it does indoors.

“If you’re outdoors, even though omicron is very transmissible, it still doesn’t seem to transmit very well outdoors,” he said. “So as long as you stay outside celebrating, I think you’re pretty safe.

“We’re probably not going to see a ton of spread from the parades themselves or even outdoor events at Sanford Stadium” on Saturday, he said. “My worry is any indoor celebrations that are going to take place around that. Going into the bars or restaurants in downtown Athens, going into frat houses, or other people’s homes, that’s really where I’m worried we could see a large amount of transmission.... And people just need to be aware if they’re going into an environment like that, without everyone wearing very good masks, you should assume you are going to get infected with omicron at this point, in that kind of environment.”

And he said he’s worried about unmasked people who are asymptomatic, unknowingly spreading the virus later to people who are at high risk for getting very sick.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate a championship for UGA. 'Go Dawgs,' that’s great, I’m as excited as you are. Just think about the consequences, and think about what you can do to keep those you care about safe," he said.

Indoors, he said, wear a good mask, an N95 or KN95 mask, to minimize the risk. Better yet, he said, stay outdoors at the parade and at the ceremonies at Sanford Stadium.