It’s been six months since COVID-19 first hit our shores, and the pandemic is far from over. There is no vaccine and no cure. And yet, despite a recent uptick in cases, all 50 states have reopened in some way or another.
For millions of socially-starved Americans, this news might come as a welcome relief. However, until there is a vaccine, we’re all living with some degree of COVID-19 risk. Just because you can chill at a bar, hit the gym, or grab a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you should. With COVID still looming large, some situations are riskier than others.
As more and more cities get back to business, it’s important to educate ourselves about potential hotspots for exposure. To help you figure out which plans to keep and which to cancel, we’re giving you the rundown on the most dangerous places to hang around during the pandemic.
#1. Bars and Nightclubs
Heading to the local watering hole and throwing back a few with friends is a bonding ritual as old as time. But unfortunately, bars are among the worst places to hang out during a pandemic.
Overall, crowded, indoor areas with poor ventilation pose the highest risk. Not only do bars encourage close quarters, but they make it difficult for people to wear masks. Even if someone walks into a bar wearing one, they inevitably have to remove their mask to eat or drink. What’s more, bars are jam-packed with people speaking loudly, shouting, and cheering—all of which have a higher potential for droplet spread.
Finally, let’s be real—when’s the last time you made a really good decision in a bar? Getting intoxicated impairs judgment, which means you’re less likely to act in a safe manner.
In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Bars: really not good.”
#2. The Gym
Who knew that taking a bunch of people, packing them into a small space, encouraging them to exercise (and expel droplets), then adding a bunch of difficult-to-clean equipment to the mix would create a petri dish for COVID?
Even before COVID, gyms were are a hotbed of germs. (We’re not kidding: One study showed that 63 percent of the surfaces in gyms are covered in rhinoviruses.)
Right now, outdoor activity is always safer than indoor exercise. If you do decide to go to the gym, be incredibly diligent about social distancing and stay six feet away from others at all times. Thoroughly wipe down all equipment you touch, including weights, bars, benches, buttons, machine rails, handles, and knobs. It’s also best to bring a personal water bottle and avoid communal drinking fountains entirely.
Because well-ventilated buildings lower your risk of breathing in viral droplets, take a good, hard look at the ventilation system in your gym. If your go-to spot has always been—for lack of a better word—a little smelly, that’s a sign of poor ventilation.
Finally, there’s the issue of masks. We know exercising while masked is unpleasant, but it’s essential while indoors. If you haven’t already, invest in a cloth mask before hitting the gym—they’re much more comfortable and breathable than paper surgical masks, which can become damp and lose their effectiveness.
Looking for a safer alternative to communal exercise? Try a group class outside.
#3. Hair and Nail Salons
Beauty may be pain, but it really isn’t worth dying for.
It’s physically impossible to stay six feet apart when getting your hair or nails done. That’s concerning, considering that COVID-19 spreads through close, person-to-person contact with infected people.
While the safest grooming option is DIY, many folks don’t feel comfortable cutting their hair at home.
If you do decide to see a professional, keep in mind that exposure time plays a role in spreading the virus. The CDC definition of “prolonged exposure” is 15 minutes. So, if you’re getting a super-quick, 15-minute haircut, wearing a mask, and staying six feet away from other clients, going to the salon is relatively safe.
Dyeing, bleaching, and other chemical salon treatments are riskier, however. That’s because you’re spending an extended period of time indoors in close contact with your stylist. If you choose to continue chemically treating your hair during COVID, try breaking your usual cut and color into two shorter appointments to avoid a prolonged encounter.
Regardless of the salon service, make sure your stylist sterilizes their tools between each client. Finally, wear a mask while in the salon and clean your hands frequently, either through washing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
#4. Public Transportation
Riding public transportation means having prolonged exposure to other passengers in small, confined spaces. That’s risky. It’s virtually impossible to disinfect contaminated surfaces between each rider, too, upping your chances of contracting the virus.
If you don’t have a car, walking and cycling are the safest choices.
Your next safest option is a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, or a private taxi. When riding, sit in the back seat to maintain social distance—even if you’re healthy. You should also wear a mask, wipe down any surfaces that you touch, and keep the windows open to increase air circulation.
We know that rideshares and taxis can get expensive, so you may occasionally have to board a bus or train. When you do take public transit, try to travel at off-peak times and avoid morning and evening rush hour. Stay away from super-packed train cars and buses, and don’t board if you count more than 10-15 passengers at a time.
While using public transportation, wear a mask, and follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from your fellow passengers. Even though transit systems have stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts, don’t touch anything you don’t absolutely have to, including poles and handrails. And whatever you do, don’t touch your face while riding.
As soon as you reach your destination, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
#5. Theaters, Sporting Events, Concert Venues
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—large groups of people crowding into enclosed spaces? Not great during a pandemic. Unfortunately, that means places like movie theaters, sporting events, and concert venues pose a high risk to attendees.
Much like bars, concerts and sporting events are made extra dangerous by crowded seating arrangements, ultra-close contact, droplet-inducing shouting, cheering, and drinking. And smaller venues like movie theaters? Close quarters and air conditioning systems can quickly spread the virus. Plus, since movie theaters and popcorn are almost inseparable, people will almost certainly remove their masks to eat and drink.
If you’re starved for summer fun right now, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are less risky options than catching a movie or heading to a game.
Two of the safest summer activities are camping and hiking. Just be sure to stay at least six feet away from others, even outdoors, and bring disinfecting supplies along with you.
Camping with family or friends? It’s best to drive out with people in your household who are either uninfected or have been safely practicing social distancing for at least two weeks.
One thing to keep in mind while enjoying the great outdoors: Using public bathrooms, especially ones that don’t get cleaned frequently, ups the risk for contracting the virus. Finally, be sure to wear a mask while inside the restoom and wash your hands afterwards.