This Is the Worst Place You Could Go Right Now, Doctor Warns

Avoid this setting to minimize your COVID risk, experts say.

For a year now, our days have been defined by all the things we can't do and places we can't go as a result of the pandemic. And unfortunately, experts have some bad news: with new COVID variants to contend with, restrictions are more important than ever. According to Leana S. Wen, MD, a physician and contributing columnist for The Washington Post, this means avoiding the places that pose the biggest threats: in particular, crowded indoor environments where the virus can be easily transmitted. Read on to learn more about Wen's recommendations, and for more expert tips on indoor safety, Dr. Fauci Just Said This Is the Only Safe Way to Eat at a Restaurant.

In a live Q&A event on Feb. 18, Wen fielded questions from readers about the current state of the COVID crisis, including one inquiry about keeping safe amid the increased threat of new mutations. "With the variants, do we have to socially distance more than six feet and do we have to be more concerned with touching surfaces?" one reader asked.

Wen answered that indeed we should be practicing enhanced precautions right now. "A more contagious variant means that the COVID-19 is even more transmissible," she explained. "The activities that we thought were lower risk are now going to be higher risk. I would make sure to avoid indoor crowded gatherings even more so than before. Try to spend as little time in these settings as possible and double-mask while there," Wen said. (She added that surfaces don't appear to pose much threat, but people should continue to wash their hands frequently.)

Crowded indoor environments are particularly dangerous because they often lack the ventilation to disperse COVID aerosols, which can linger in the air longer than larger droplets. "COVID-19 spread is primarily through close contact, but now we know that aerosols…are a part of the spread too," Wen said.

So, as you make plans over the coming months, be sure to avoid this needlessly risky environment. Spend as much time outdoors as you can, continue to socially distance, and, as Wen advised, wear two masks in places that pose a higher threat.

Interested in more pearls of wisdom from Dr. Wen? Read on for more of her best insights from the Q&A, and to learn more about dangerous places during the pandemic, This Is Where You're Most Likely to Catch COVID Now, New Study Says.

You may have vaccine side effects or not—either way, it's OK.

gray haired woman getting a covid vaccine from young female doctor
Shutterstock/Yuganov Konstantin

Experts have said that vaccine side effects indicate that the immune system is activating, meaning the vaccine is working. However, one reader wrote in with concerns that they hadn't personally experienced side effects to the COVID vaccine, and therefore questioned whether their immune system had responded.

"Some people have severe side effects to the vaccines involving fevers, body aches, and fatigue. Some people have minimal side effects. All of this is normal and expected, and reflects people's different physiological response to vaccines. So, not to worry either way!" said Wen. And for the latest COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The vaccines may help curb cases of long COVID.

Young man wear face mask and coughing outdoors.

Another reader asked whether the current vaccines might lower the risk of long COVID. While Wen said that there is not yet enough data on this topic, there is a good chance vaccinations will reduce the rate of long COVID patients.

"I have seen patients who still have trouble with daily life activities months after recovering from COVID-19. That said, if the vaccines reduce the likelihood of disease—and especially severe disease—one would expect that they would substantially reduce the likelihood of long-haul COVID-19 as well. This is an area that certainly deserves much more study, though," she said. And for more essential news on long COVID, check out The Terrifying Long COVID Symptom Doctors Are Now Warning About.

You should take whatever vaccine is available to you.

A female healthcare worker wearing a face mask, protective goggles, and gloves holds a syringe and vial of COVID-19 vaccine

A third reader wrote in to ask whether it's acceptable to wait for a vaccine with higher efficacy rates if another option is available first. Wen responded that "you should take whatever vaccine is available to you," adding that "it's very hard to compare the vaccines head-to-head."

As she explained, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines "were trialed before variants" while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested after the British and South African variants emerged. "It's not right, therefore, to say that one vaccine is better than another. It may turn out, over time, that one vaccine is better than another for certain patients or certain variants, and perhaps booster shots will be developed that target new variants. You can take that booster or other vaccines over time," she said. "Right now, with the pandemic raging, with emerging variants developing, you really should take whatever vaccine you have access to. They are all very effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death, which are the endpoints we really care about." And for more vaccine advice, be aware that The CDC Says Don't Do This Within 2 Weeks of Your COVID Vaccine.

Avoid gatherings with people taking fewer precautions than you.

Single father applying pollution mask to his daughter. They are outside.

Lastly, a parent wrote in asking for guidance in navigating playdates during the pandemic. As they explained, their elementary-aged children are learning remotely this year, and they wondered if playdates with other children who attended in-person school would pose much risk. "None of their families feel that it is necessary for the kids to wear masks on playdates," the reader added.

"I would not have playdates with families who are not taking the same type of precautions as you," responded Wen. "If you do have playdates, make sure there are masks on at all times from all involved and that they are outdoors."

The doctor added, "We are not far from the end—let's hang on for a little longer!" And for more on staying safe amid the pandemic, These 3 Things Could Prevent Almost All COVID Cases, Study Finds.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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