7 "Safe" Places Where You Could Catch Coronavirus
You might think these spots are COVID-19 free, but according to experts, that's not the case.
Now that we're months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many have adjusted to their "new normal" and found routines that minimize their risk of exposure while allowing them to feel at least somewhat sane. But while many parts of the country are seeing cases decrease and stores start to reopen, it's still important to be cautious whenever you leave the house. Even those places you might consider "safe" from the virus could actually pose threats to your well-being. Here are seven spots you should approach carefully, according to medical professionals. And for more tips on what to avoid right now, check out This One Item You Touch Every Day Puts You Most at Risk of Coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself reassures swimmers that "there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas." But while you aren't likely to catch the virus just by taking a dip where someone infected has been swimming—especially if it's well-chlorinated—that does not mean a trip to the local pool is a good idea.
"Much about swimming at a beach or in a swimming pool makes social distancing difficult," according to twin brothers Jamil Abdurrahman, MD, and Idries Abdurrahman, MD. "And anytime social distancing is not being maintained, there is a risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus."
The Abdurrahmans also point to a 2009 study published in the journal Water Research that found that coronaviruses in general can remain in water for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. "Now, it is important to note that, just because virus particles are found in water, this doesn't necessarily mean that they will be active and able to cause an active infection," the Abdurrahmans clarify. "But just the fact that a coronavirus may be able to survive in water means that it is at least possible that transmission of the virus could occur from contacting contaminated water." And for more on how the coronavirus works in water, check out Can You Get Coronavirus From a Pool? Experts Weigh In.
Medical professionals have made clear that one is safer from the virus outdoors than inside. But that doesn't mean that just because you aren't surrounded by walls, it's impossible to catch COVID-19. "The risk is lower outdoors, but it's not zero," Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affair, told The New York Times. "And I think the risk is higher if you have two people who are stationary next to each other for a long time, like on a beach blanket, rather than people who are walking and passing each other."
Mike Sevilla, MD, a practicing family physician in Salem, Ohio, agrees that while being outside at a local park does present a decreased in terms of catching coronavirus, there are some precautions that should still be taken. "First, I do recommend some kind of face covering, and make sure that it covers your nose and mouth," he says. "Second, bring that hand sanitizer with you and use frequently. Finally, do not gather in crowds and make sure you're practicing social distancing." And for places to steer clear of entirely after reopening, check out 7 Germiest Public Places You Should Avoid Even After They Reopen.
Before COVID-19, the thing you were most concerned about when visiting the ATM was probably someone seeing your pin. But now, these financial institutions present some serious dangers to your health.
"A cashpoint machine would be an example of what would otherwise be considered safe if there are no other persons in the vicinity," says Tracey Evans, PhD, a medical researcher and science writer for Fitness Savvy. Evans also adds that ATMs are crawling with germs. "It would be advisable to always wear gloves when using an ATM," Evans notes. "Even if it may not have been used for five minutes, that does not mean you are not likely to pick up the virus from pressing the keypad."
Plus, ATM vestibules are rather small with limited airflow, which is another concern. A study out of Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which has not yet peer reviewed, found that "the odds that a primary case transmitted COVID-19 in a closed environment was 18.7 times greater compared to an open-air environment." So, go to the bank at your own risk!
We go to the doctor when we're not feeling well in hopes that they will help us feel better. But the white walls, smell of rubbing alcohol, and general sterility of a doctor's office should not lull you into thinking you are safe from catching something there. Those other people in the waiting room could be carrying COVID-19 and could easily pass it to you.
Consider that close contact is the primary way COVID-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets from an infected person who sneezes, coughs, or merely talks to others. In fact, these droplets are still detectable in the air for up to 14 minutes in an environment with stagnant air, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. And we wouldn't say the air is moving all that well in a doctor's office. And for all the ways doctor's offices will change post-pandemic, check out these 5 Things You'll Never See at Your Doctor's Office After Coronavirus.
This is one of the few places most of us have visited in the past few months. Even with strict maximum capacity rules and floor markers noting six fit of distance, these sources of sustenance can be risky places to visit.
"Grocers are doing their best to keep the aisles clean, but it is the patrons that are being careless," says Abe Malkin, MD, founder and medical director of Concierge MD LA. "We all know that to get the best produce, you must use your senses of touch and smell with a lot of these items. That means that perfectly ripe avocado you brought home might not have passed the test for about four others before you."
Malkin recommends immediately wiping down any grocery store purchases before putting them away in your cabinet or fridge, and to wash your fruits and vegetables under cold running water, even if the packaging claims it is "pre-washed."
There's a wide spectrum when it comes to public restrooms and the health risks they impose. In this case, we're not talking about an airport or gas station bathroom that would be scary even if we weren't in the middle of a global pandemic, but rather the well-maintained facilities of a café where everything appears to be spotless. While these might seem like a refuge from the dangers of the outside world, public restrooms are full of threats.
You might have heard that the aerosolization of fecal matter when one flushes the toilet can spread the COVID-19 contagion, but that's not all. "Along with the potential exposure from people flushing toilets, you can potentially be exposed by people drying their hands," says Roberto Contreras II, MD, regional medical director of Borrego Health in California. "Specifically, the air hand driers. If someone did not wash their hands appropriately—leaving more than just coronavirus on their hands—they will have bacteria, viruses, etc. from their hands flung into the air with the use of many of these hand driers. Use of paper towels is probably the safer method of drying your hands to not expose anyone around you."
While dining in a restaurant is a no-go for most parts of the U.S., many of us assume that takeout remains a safe option. But here too, you'd better be careful—though it's not the food itself you have to worry about.
"When you order food from outside your home, you interact with numerous items that others have touched—these include cardboard boxes, paper bags, and plastic containers," says Vandana A. Patel, MD, clinical advisor for online pharmacy Cabinet. "The coronavirus can stay on hard surfaces for days, so ensure that you're careful about where you set down takeout bags, and wash those surfaces and your hands thoroughly after bringing them home." And if you want to learn about the dangerous mistakes you need to stop making, check out 7 Coronavirus Mistakes You're Making That Would Horrify Your Doctor.