- The risk of catching the coronavirus by venturing out of your house is not all or nothing.
- We spoke to Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, to find out which activities are not too risky, and which you should try to avoid.
- Gatherings with groups of friends or family are risky, Hassig said.
- Catching the virus from opening mail or touching groceries is unlikely, she said.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Coronavirus transmission is not black and white — some activities are riskier than others, while some should cause little worry.
As states start to reopen parts of their economies and people tire of an all-out quarantine, the risk level of various activities should be considered to make decisions about what’s safe and what should be avoided.
Harvard Medical School professor Julia Marcus recently argued in The Atlantic that we should remember risk is not binary, and an abstinence-only approach — like that used in some sex education — won’t help. “Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay — at least not forever,” she wrote.
So we spoke to Dr. Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, about the risk of going out to eat, gathering with friends, or opening mail.
While different activities are riskier than others by nature, you should always wear a mask when possible and try to keep a distance of 6 feet from others.
Actions like social distancing and wearing a mask (or the lack thereof) can alter risk level significantly.
Here’s what you should consider about various activities as restrictions start to lift across the country.
High risk: Gathering with family or friends
Getting together with family or friends who don’t live in your household comes with a high risk of infection, Hassig said.
“If you haven’t been living with them, then there’s a potential risk,” she said.
Family and friends are unlikely to wear masks or social distancing when gathering, and asymptomatic people could spread the virus there.
If you do decide to get together with family or friends, you should consider the age and underlying conditions of the people there and those you live with.
You should also consider who your friends could have come in contact with. Are they mostly staying at home? Or are they visiting different friends every day?
“It’s not just your friend [you’re seeing], it’s everybody they’ve spent time with,” Hassig said.
High risk: Bars
Bars “should not be allowed to open,” Hassig said.
The nature of bars — mingling, crowded bartops, and the inability to wear a mask while you’re drinking — make them a high-risk place for coronavirus infection, Hassig said.
An added risk: Alcohol hinders decision making, which could make those factors even worse.
High: Religious functions
Rituals like hand-shaking and communion in the Catholic church, dense crowds, and the older-skewing members make religious services a high-risk place for coronavirus infections.
The risk could be lowered by social distancing, mask-wearing, and abstaining from rituals that involve touching, eating or drinking.
High risk: Movie theaters and sporting events
Movie theaters or large events like sporting games are high risk especially because of the choke points at entry and exit.
Even if attendees are able to enter and exit while social distancing, which would likely be complicated and take longer, getting infected while sitting in a contained area is still a risk.
Medium to high risk: Gyms
Gym-goers should wear a mask when possible, Hassig said.
Equipment should be sanitized before and after each individual use, and social distancing should be enforced rigorously.
Medium risk: Restaurants (indoors)
Indoor dining at restaurants is risky because of air flow and the nature of people being in the same enclosed space for hours at a time.
To help mitigate the risks of eating in a restaurant, people should wear masks until their food is delivered.
Disposable materials, especially for items like menus, can also help.
Medium risk: Hair and nail salons
Hair and nail salons, which have opened in many states, are at a medium risk for infection, Hassig said.
Mask-wearing is critical, as it helps block particles from speaking or coughing from spreading easily. It also discourages employees and customers from touching their faces.
Hair and nail salon employees should be sure to wash their hands frequently, Hassig said.
Medium risk: Dates or gatherings with a couple of friends
When it comes to dates or gatherings with a very small group, the same questions apply as when getting together with a larger group.
Geography especially matters when it comes to dates or one-on-one activities. In an area with a lot of cases, like New York, the risk that your date could be contagious is higher than in a suburb with only a handful of cases.
Low to medium risk: Beaches
Social distancing on beaches can help lower the risk of enjoying a day in the sun.
But, it can also be hard to enforce because of the size of many beaches. Most beaches have many points of entry, so it would be difficult to limit capacity.
Low risk: Outdoor dining
Dining outdoors at a restaurant is actually a relatively low-risk activity as long as tables are kept at least 6 feet apart. Being outside allows air to flow more freely.
You should still wear a mask as often as you can, and be cautious of high-touch items like menus and condiments.
Low risk: Outdoor activities
When you’re on a hike or a walk in the park, you shouldn’t worry too much about quickly walking past someone on a path or trail.
While you should try to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others at all times, encounters of more than 15 minutes are riskier than walking past someone on a trail.
Outdoor activities are low risk if you stay with people from within your household. If you meet up with friends or family from outside of your household, that still counts as a gathering and proper precautions should be considered.
Low risk: Touching mail or groceries
There’s a low risk of catching the coronavirus from touching your mail or other items, like groceries.
Hassig said she personally doesn’t wipe down her groceries, though if you’re worried about it, you can keep non-perishable items in the grocery bag for a few days before using them.
You should still be cautious about touching high-traffic things like doorknobs and elevator buttons.