The Riskiest and Safest Activities to Do Right Now, According to CDC

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It seems that there is no safe place from the coronavirus these days, but some places and activities are definitely riskier than others. Wearing face masks, complying with social distancing guidelines, and washing your hands are still the most important rules to follow amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But there are still things you need or want to do, like going grocery shopping, getting a haircut or meeting with friends. How exposed are you to the novel coronavirus depending on the activities that you perform? “With most of these activities there is relative risk and it depends largely on two things: the environment and what you do in that environment. The thing that’s hard to control is what’s happening in the environment,” said infectious disease expert and MD Dr. Sandra Kesh. What activities are riskier or safer than others? We asked around and this is what we found out.

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Traveling by plane – high risk

You are certainly more exposed to the virus in airports and planes than in other places, given the larger numbers of people in a confined space. Although the number of people has decreased in recent months, airports are still transited by many people which makes it difficult to comply with all the rules. Not to mention that inside the plane, social distancing is practically impossible, and the air is recirculated, which increases the risks of catching the virus. “The issue is really who’s next to you, and then the surfaces you touch a lot,” Charles Gerba, a professor of virology at the University of Arizona who has also studied germs on planes, said.

How to lower the risk:

The risk can be lowered, however, by wearing a face mask throughout your journey. More than that, try to find a flight that’s less crowded, even if it means traveling by night and research the safety policies implemented by the respective airline company.

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Going out to a bar – high risk

In several states, bars are still closed, and for good reason. On one hand, alcohol consumption usually leads to a more disinhibited behavior; this means it is less likely for people drinking alcohol to comply with the pandemic safety rules.”Bars are noisy, so you’re yelling your drink order at the bartender and other people are right by you — it’s really a perfect environment for that shared air space which we get so worried about,” warned Kesh.

How to lower the risk:

There’s really not much you can do to protect yourself inside a bar, therefore, it’s better if you avoided such establishments altogether, at least for a while, after they reopen. See also 7 Risky Activities You Shouldn’t Be Doing With Friends Right Now.

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Going to the hairdresser – high risk

Hair salons are now open, but is it safe to go? According to health experts, hair salons are not the safest places to be during the coronavirus pandemic because social distancing is not an option. Nor is wearing a face mask, in most cases.

“A hair salon is a place that, by its nature, requires close contact between at least two people, either of whom could be infected with the virus and not know it,” says David Aronoff, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. “The biggest challenge with COVID-19 is that transmission can occur between people who appear healthy and feel well.”

How to lower the risk:

“The salon shouldn’t be crowded, it should be well-ventilated and they should keep the doors and windows open so there is good airflow. If they have an air conditioner or fan, that should be on,” said Kesh.

If you really need to go to the hairdresser, avoid activities that take a lot of time, like hair dyeing. “If I were to go to a salon, I would want to make sure that salon employees were all wearing masks or face shields, and that customers were wearing masks until points in the appointment when it’s not possible,” says Dr. Aronoff. “Also, reducing the capacity of clients and employees at the salon at any given time will maximize space between people, and lower the likelihood of transmission events.”

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Eating at restaurants – medium to high risk

Restaurants have already been opened in 44 states, with new guidance from state leaders and federal experts, including the Centers for Disease Control. However, if you’re thinking of heading out to eat, you should know that restaurants are still considered risky and pose a threat to the diners’ health. Wearing a face mask is out of the question because it would make it impossible for you to eat and virus transmission is still possible even if you remain six-feet away from other clients.

“As a public health disaster researcher and educator, I think about the risk to myself, and so every person has to really take stock,” explains Robyn Gershon, MHS, DrPH, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “What if you live with an elderly person or somebody with chronic illness? We’ve already heard that [if you have] cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes, most any kind of chronic condition, you’re at a higher risk for severe complications.”

How to lower the risk:

If you want to stay on the safe side, opt for takeout or eat at home. The next best thing is dining outdoors, in a place that’s not very crowded.

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Meeting friends indoors – medium to high risk

It’s normal to miss your friends and want to see them again, especially after so many months of zero social interaction. If you want to stay on the safe side, avoid indoor places where people speak and touch various surfaces and the transmission risk is higher. “We’ve seen multiple studies where people in indoor environments, in workplaces as well as in dining settings, end up being infected because of air circulation and lack of adequate ventilation,” said Amanda Castel, a professor of epidemiology at George Washington University.

“The thing that I see a lot of is when we are around our friends, people tend to relax. Then they have a few drinks and they relax even more so the masks come off and everyone gets closer together, then before you know it everyone is having face-to-face conversations without a mask on,” added Kesh.

How to lower the risk:

Although it’s not completely safe, it’s better to meet your friends outdoors rather than indoors and limit your social circle as much as possible to people that comply with safety rules just like you. “Even if you’re going to meet up with friends, you still need to socially distance and use masks until we’re basically told otherwise by Anthony Fauci or another person who has the scientific authority and gravitas to make those types of decisions,” said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health. Speaking of Dr. Fauci, here are his  Tips on How To Avoid Coronavirus!

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Going to the gym – medium risk

How safe you are at the gym pretty much depends on how big the gym is and if it’s limiting how many members are allowed in at the same time. One other important aspect is that most people will not wear masks while training, which means asymptomatic carriers will release droplets into the air and infect other people.

“Gyms are very well ventilated, but we do know how far this virus can spread. So, if you are in a gym and you’re doing a vigorous workout, you’re breathing hard, someone near you might cough. There’s a lot of potential for aerosolization of things that in an outdoor setting is much less problematic since the particles disperse very quickly in the open air,” said Kesh.

How to lower the risk:

Opt for a less crowded gym and make sure you disinfect the equipment before and after every use. “People need to be much more spaced out and there needs to be good air ventilation and good air conditioning. All of these places that are indoors need to stay on top of changing their AC filters, make sure they have a good HVAC system, have good exhaust fans in the bathrooms and the other places where we’ve seen the potential for transmission. So if we do all of those things the right way, the gym can be a low to medium risk area,” said Kesh says. “For my own patients, I recommend that they head outdoors, especially as it is warmer,” she added.

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Going grocery shopping – low to medium risk

First of all, the more crowded the store you’re going to, the greater the risk of exposure to SARS-COV-2. As a good rule of thumb, opt for grocery stores with clear and strict safety practices. “You want to pick a store that’s really paying attention and making it safer for customers to go in,” said Dr. Jessica Justman, an associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at Columbia University

How to lower the risk:

To facilitate social distancing, go to the grocery store early in the morning or late at night, when the store might be less crowded. Use hand sanitizer as often as possible, and “avoid racing to get the last of an item on the shelf. Follow guidelines that may be posted at the store. Be patient,” recommended Dr. Craig Hedberg, a professor in the environmental health sciences division of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

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Going to the park – low risk

In outdoor areas, the risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus is lower because the virus-bearing particles disperse in the open air much faster than in indoor places. More than that, a park allows for better social distancing. “I count parks as low-risk environments as long as you are wearing masks and keeping that six-foot rule. I’ve seen some city parks that have paint on the grass to help distance people, but they need to follow those rules,” said Kesh.

“I think going outside is important for health,” said Julia L. Marcus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “We know that being outdoors is a lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors. On a sunny, beautiful weekend, I think going outside is indicated, but I also think there are things to do to reduce our risk.”

How to lower the risk:

Opt for a park that is closer to your home and not so crowded. The National Park Service is the authority that decides on a park-by-park basis if a national park will open, so stay informed on the rules before heading out.

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