While COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are decreasing around the country, experts warn that the introduction of new, more transmissible variants could turn the positive trend around sooner rather than later. This makes it just as important as ever to keep yourself and others safe from the virus. Luckily, you do have some control over your transmission risk. Dr. Allison Edwards, MD, doctor at Kansas City Direct Primary Care and medical advisor at Sesame, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health that your chances of catching COVID can go up or down depending on the following variables. Read on to find out what they are—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Minimize Time with Others
When it comes to COVID, the less time you are around others, the better. “The more time you spend around those outside of your immediate household, the higher the risk of contracting COVID,” Dr. Edwards points out.
Avoid Crowded Spaces
Density and distance are huge factors when it comes to COVID risk. “The more people you’re around—especially if you are relatively close to them—the more likely it is that you could catch COVID,” Dr. Edwards points out.
Pay Attention to Ventilation
As fresh air circulates and moves, it reduces the risk of contracting COVID. This is why, during warmer months, experts recommended outdoor gatherings in lieu of indoor ones if you must be around those who are outside your immediate household.
Stay Updated on Community Transmission
Knowing what is going on in your community can be extremely helpful when planning your COVID prevention tactic. “This one’s the big wildcard,” she points out. “What’s going on in your community? What are infection rates like? What are vaccination rates like? Are people wearing masks — and are they wearing them correctly? The more risk factors you have in your community, the higher your risk is for catching COVID.” She adds that you can lower these risks by—as frustrating as it is—only leaving your immediate household for necessary trips and errands.
Follow the Fundamentals
Your personal actions can greatly reduce your risk of transmission. “Are you wearing a mask? Are you avoiding touching your face? Are you doing a good job with handwashing (20 seconds or more!) or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer?” Dr. Edwards asks. “All of these things will help you protect yourself—which helps protect the community.”
Avoid the Gym
Dr. Edwards points out that using the above information, you can visualize how risky an activity is. For example, consider a place like the gym. “You’re likely going to be there for a long time. It’s hard to know what the ventilation is like, and there’s a good chance that there will be other people milling about while you’re there, which makes it harder to keep your distance,” she explains. “Additionally, most communities are seeing widespread illness at this point, and it can be hard to not touch your face or to practice good hand hygiene at the gym. This is why gyms can be really high-risk for COVID transmission.”
And, Avoid Indoor Dining
Similar to gyms, restaurants meet the criteria for risk. “You spend a leisurely time there, servers come and go—as do passing by patrons—and most restaurants aren’t equipped to provide frequent fresh air circulation (especially in winter!),” Edwards points out. “Again, most communities are seeing widespread COVID transmission at this point, and in restaurants, most patrons are not wearing masks while actively touching their face, wiping their mouth, licking their fingers, etc.—makes for a riskier situation than not.”
You Can Make These Activities Less Risky
The good news, according to Dr. Edwards? “You can do your best to modify all of these risk factors to not catch COVID,” she points out. “If you have to be in a dense or poorly ventilated area, shorten the time in which you’re in there. If you live in a community with high-risk factors, aim to avoid—i.e. spend no time in—crowded, poorly ventilated areas. While in the chaos of all the different things we’ve heard about COVID in the last year, these have largely held true and have been constants for protecting yourself and those around you.”
RELATED: Dr. Fauci Just Said When We’d Get Back to Normal
Do Your Part
So follow public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.