- As businesses and public facilities reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are warning people to be cautious about where they choose to go.
- They say places such as bars, theaters, and churches where people congregate closely are higher risk gatherings for coronavirus spread.
- They say pools and beaches can also be high risk due to the lack of physical distancing among groups.
- They recommend people check to make sure businesses such as hair salons are following safety protocols before entering those establishments.
For millions of Americans who’ve been locked down for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the reopening in all 50 states might feel like a welcome relief.
But while many places may have flattened their curves, the pandemic is far from over.
Among other indicators, more than 20 states reported increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases during the first week of June.
Until a vaccine is found — which could take months or years — that means living with some degree of COVID-19 risk and taking steps to minimize that risk, both in the places you’re least likely to contract the virus that causes the disease and where you’re the most likely to get it.
“I like to think of it as the same principles that we apply to limit radiation exposure — time, distance, and shielding,” said Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-paramedic, the executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness and a former senior public health advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency Care Coordination Center.
“The less time we are in the same place with an infected individual, the better,” Roszak told Healthline. “A quick trip to a grocery store is better than sitting through a 2-hour movie or working 8 hours inside a business. For distance, this is where our social distancing comes in. And just as we wear a lead vest to protect us from X-rays, we also can use shielding to protect us from the coronavirus. This is why you are seeing so many businesses install protective glass or plexiglass to provide shielding from the coronavirus.”
With that in mind, here are some of the higher risk places you could go and how you might be able to limit your risk of infection from SARS-Cov-2.
Many of us miss socializing with friends over an evening drink, but experts say bars are among the worst place to be during a pandemic — in part because they’re designed to encourage close quarters.
“The highest risk environments would be indoors with poor air/HVAC systems, with an inability to maintain 6-foot spacing accompanied by loud talking or yelling without everyone wearing a mask,” Dr. Jeff Pothof, the chief quality officer at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, told Healthline. “The most common example would be a crowded bar with people having to speak loudly because of the noise and either unmasked or frequently removing the mask to eat or drink.”
Wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing would help limit your risk here, but given the nature of a bar, that could be impractical.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source has warned against attending gatherings of 10 or more people as a particular risk for COVID-19 transmission.
Officials say that’s because these gatherings offer more opportunities to come in contact with a person who has the virus. These gatherings also are less likely to have proper physical distancing.
Rock concerts and religious services are among this group.
If you do decide to go out, “Reduce your risk by being selective in your choice of venues,” said Carol Winner, MPH, MSE, a public health expert and founder of the physical distancing brand give space.
“Try to research things like how many people will be allowed into the theater per showing? Is my church spreading attendees out by pews?” she told Healthline
While the likelihood is low of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 through the water of a pool or ocean, the lack of physical distancing is a concern at community pools and beaches.
“Public beaches and community pools can go from quiet to bustling before you know it,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.
“If you find that you are unable to wear your mask (because you are eating or drinking, for example) and you are also unable to maintain your distance from others (because of overcrowding) — it’s time to go,” she told Healthline.
Transportation, whether that’s subways, buses, trains, or airplanes, is another venue where it’s hard to maintain physical distancing.
You’re also likely to have prolonged exposure to other people, making it especially high risk.
“In major urban centers, these transit systems are essential and because of this they are often overcrowded,” Tony Abate, an expert on the airborne transmission of viruses and vice president and chief technical officer at AtmosAir Solutions, an air purification company in Fairfield, Connecticut. “This raises the probability of passing coronavirus aerial droplets from passenger to passenger by sneezing, coughing, or even talking.”
Abate told Healthline that passengers should be wary of high-touch surfaces on transportation, including handrails, door pulls, and buttons.
Handwashing and avoiding touching your face are essential to minimize your risk in this circumstance.