From hair salons to gyms, experts rank 36 activities by coronavirus risk level
Updated Jun 08, 2020; Posted Jun 02, 2020
By Taylor DesOrmeau | firstname.lastname@example.org
As governments continue to ease restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the burden of managing risk is shifting to people.
Experts have advised people for months to wear masks, wash their hands and stay 6 feet apart. But now that some public places are reopening, individuals must decide for themselves which ones to continue to avoid and which ones pose little risk of spreading the virus.
MLive spoke to the following four public health experts in Michigan, asking them to assess the risk various activities pose to spreading coronavirus.
- Dr. Matthew Sims, Beaumont Health director of infectious disease research
- Dr. Dennis Cunningham, McLaren Health Care medical director for infection prevention
- Dr. Mimi Emig, retired infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health
- Dr. Nasir Husain, Henry Ford Macomb medical director for infection prevention
The doctors pointed to five factors, when considering how risky a given activity might be: Whether it’s inside or outside; proximity to others; exposure time; likelihood of compliance; and personal risk level. Outdoor activities are generally safer, they said, because the virus becomes less concentrated outside and doesn’t get recirculated around like it could indoors.
Activities that prevent social distancing – like playing basketball or packing in at a music concert – are also riskier. The experts also point to exposure time as a factor. Walking by a person on a trail is less likely to spread the virus, compared to sitting in an enclosed space with somebody for hours. Some environments are tougher than others, when it comes to enforcing precautions. So places where compliance is most likely are a lower risk than places where people don’t have to follow the guidelines.
People must also consider their own personal risk level, such as if they have health risks that make them more susceptible to COVID-19...
The list, below, assigns a score for activities from 1 to 10, with a 10 being the riskiest and a 1 being the least risky. The score is an average of scores given by the health experts, rounded to the nearest whole number.
Naturally, there are caveats. For example, while the experts said going to a gym is very risky, attendees could be sneezing on each other and ignoring all precautions and still have zero risk if nobody has the virus. And vice versa, playing tennis is one of the least risky activities – but if your partner has the virus, the actual risk is high.
But because many people can have COVID-19 unknowingly without showing symptoms, it's impossible to know who is and who is not infected at a given time.
The doctors emphasized that if everybody takes precautions, the risk level for each activity is dramatically reduced, they said.
"Anything where there's a crowd of people, without risk reduction strategies, it's a 10," Sims said.
Here's the ranking of 36 activities, starting with the most hazardous.
Risk level: 9
Large music concerts
Risk level: 8
Risk level: 7
Schools have a bunch of complicated factors, when it comes to risks for spreading COVID-19. Students are often (almost always at my school) within 6 feet of each other and for hours at a time (about 7 1/2 hours at my school).
That's on top of the added challenge of getting children to follow precautions like staying separated, wearing a mask and washing hands well.
(My note: Throughout the article "loud talking" is mentioned as an additional risk factor. That is something that goes on a good portion of the time in my school. Students talking; teachers talking. I suppose it is possible that teachers won't be able to do any talking group work this fall, and possibly you could limit the talking done by the teacher and students, but I imagine that will make it hard to teach languages.)
Risk level: 6
Restaurants, indoor seating
Hair salons, barbershops
Pontoon boat rides (*gg* This is summer in Michigan, after all.)
Risk level: 5
Dinner parties at a house
Risk level: 4
Walking in a busy downtown
Doctor's office waiting rooms
Eating outside at a restaurant
Risk level: 3
Libraries and museums
Risk level: 2
Going for a walk, run or bike ride with others
Risk level: 1
Getting takeout from a restaurant
I understand that kids need to be learning, they need contact with other kids and probably contact with teachers and other caring adults. But without reductions in class size, shortened school days, cohorting of students, staggered entry and exit times, etc., I don't believe that schools will be safe, even if everyone does wear a mask. (Sign me up for limit of 15, by the way. That was the limit mentioned in the New York Times article for the school in Tempe. At my high school the limit is 30, which means we get paid a dollar a day for every student above 30. Class sizes are bigger elsewhere. Didn't Robert--US used to have classes of 40 students?)
I am avoiding almost everything on the list, with the exception of a few medical appointments, grocery shopping once every two or three weeks, occasional take out and a little non-essential shopping (where everyone was masked and socially distanced). My husband has been even more careful than I have because he is older. (I have done almost all the grocery shopping, for example.) I don't believe schools are going to be safe this fall, and I'm not in Florida (yikes!), California, Arizona, or any of the other hot spot states.