This One Thing Makes Churches and Bars Equally as High Risk for Coronavirus

Health experts assess what makes going to church just as risky as going to a bar.

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With lockdown orders continuing to ease around the country and more businesses reopening, it's hard to know what's safe to do and what's not. In some cases, however, experts know the places and things you should avoid. And according to four doctors in Michigan, doing either of these seemingly unrelated activities puts you at an equally high risk of being exposed to the coronavirus: going to church and hitting the bar for happy hour.

Asked by MLive to assess the risk of 36 activities—from going to the gym to getting on an airplane—medical experts evaluated each through the lens of five key factors: "whether it's inside or outside; proximity to others; exposure time; likelihood of compliance; and personal risk level." They then gave each activity a rating on a scale of one to 10, with 10 representing the highest level of risk.

At the top of the list with a score of nine was going to a bar or nightclub. Experts pointed to lower inhibitions due to alcohol consumption and people being in close proximity to each other as the main risk drivers.

"After a couple of drinks, they're starting to feel a little more invincible," Nasir Husain, MD, Henry Ford Macomb medical director for infection prevention, told MLive. "And that's when the trouble starts."

Matthew Sims, MD, Beaumont Health director of infectious disease research, added, "I'd probably give bars a 10. I'm really worried about bars."

Excited friends toasting with beer glasses at pub
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For similar reasons—aside from the alcohol consumption of course—the doctors determined that going to church is an extremely high-risk activity when it comes to your chances of being exposed to coronavirus. And while they gave it a rating of eight, there is one factor that would make going to church just as risky as going to a bar.

"If they add singing, then it's on a par with bars," Mimi Emig, MD, retired infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health, told MLive. "People are going to hate that, but it's the truth."

Emig's statement isn't just a matter of opinion, either. In recently published research in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found evidence that suggests the high potential of church choir rehearsals and performances to become super-spreader events. In fact, the CDC reported that after a choir rehearsed for two-and-a-half hours with one symptomatic member present, 87 percent of the group developed COVID-19—which resulted in three hospitalizations and two deaths.

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According to the study's authors, singing—or talking loudly and closely in a crowded bar—are behaviors both capable of spreading the virus. "Aerosol emission during speech has been correlated with loudness of vocalization, and certain persons, who release an order of magnitude more particles than their peers, have been referred to as superemitters and have been hypothesized to contribute to superspeading events," the researchers wrote. And for more on the spread of COVID-19, This Is Who's Transmitting 45 Percent of Coronavirus Cases, Study Says.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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