If You Notice These 2 Things, You're at Risk of COVID, Virus Experts Say
Keep an eye out for these warning signs, especially if you are traveling.
The best practices for protecting yourself against COVID out in public have basically become second nature at this point in the pandemic. But when it comes to figuring out how careful you have to be when you're on the road, it can be harder to gauge exactly what might be putting your health in danger—especially as the Delta variant continues to spread. But virus experts advise that the situations putting you at the highest risk of COVID can look fairly similar no matter where in the world you are, warning that you should look out for crowded indoor spaces and a high infection rate wherever you are.
While many experts and officials still agree that traveling amid the spread of COVID is still a hazardous proposition for most—even for those who are vaccinated—the most important and basic tactics for avoiding the spread of the virus still apply. "I think it's ideal to avoid crowded indoor settings with inadequate ventilation," Saskia Popescu, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, told The Guardian. "I try to focus on doing things outdoors and be aware of the local transmission rates where I may need to take other precautions."
Other experts caution that just because you're traveling doesn't mean you can let your guard down in high-risk situations. "The activities [you should avoid] depend on the community-level transmission of the place you are visiting," Thomas Chin-Chia Tsai, MD, a surgeon and health policy researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Guardian. "If you are outdoors, generally safer; if you are indoors, generally less safe."
Famously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backtracked on its initial easing of mask recommendations in late July by advising that even fully vaccinated people should wear a mask while indoors in areas with high transmission rates. The amended guidelines came in response to rising case numbers brought on by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. But while the return to masked life has been bemoaned by many, some experts caution that going above and beyond while following the recommended precautions can go a long way in keeping you safe, both while traveling and at home.
"People should follow the most stringent public health guidance available, regardless of whether or not local public health officials have the same recommendations," Kelly Hills, a bioethicist and co-founder of the bioethics consulting firm Rogue Bioethics, told The Guardian. "If people have decided that they are going to travel, it is on them to take responsibility for their actions and to do the absolute best they can to minimize the spread of disease."
While an initial dip in COVID cases seen over the spring led to a brief resurgence of booking travel plans, the CDC has once again begun adding a growing list of countries to its top risk tier of "Level 4: COVID-19 Very High." The agency advises against all travel to countries on the list, determining risk levels based on the number of recently reported cases. The top tier is designated as any place where more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents have been recorded in the past 28 days.
"Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19," the agency states on their website. "However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants."
For many, the potential for infection will lead to yet another round of delayed travel plans. But for those who must hit the road for essential reasons, experts recommend following the CDC's posted guidelines regardless of whether you're taking a domestic or international trip.
"Traveling to an area of low vaccination (and high COVID-19 case rates) is inherently risky," Tsai told The Guardian. "While you can't control the risk to you from the surrounding community, you can control the risk to yourself and the risk to others by ensuring you are vaccinated, wearing masks in appropriate venues, not traveling when symptomatic or if you have a recent exposure, and getting tested frequently with antigen tests."