An Infectious Disease Doctor Ranks the Riskiness of Your Daily Activities
Even if you’re cautious, you’re probably taking some risks every day. Here's how dangerous they are.
More and more, businesses and public spaces across the U.S. are starting to reopen. And while you may not feel comfortable traveling, going to a hair salon, or visiting a theme park anytime soon, you are likely engaging in a variety of ordinary or essential activities outside your home that pose a certain amount of risk when it comes to the coronavirus. But just how much risk are we talking about? To find out, we asked infectious disease doctor Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, to rank some of the most common activities in order from safest to riskiest. Read on to find out how your daily errands rank. And for more expert tips from Russo, check out I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor. Here's How I Decide What's Safe to Do and What's Not.
Going for a walk
Russo rates going for a walk as the safest activity many people are doing every day. First of all, it's outdoors, and he notes that outdoor activities are generally always going to be safer than indoor activities, where there is fixed air volume and limited space.
Plus, you may be able to go on a walk without encountering other people—and other people pose the greatest risk of virus transmission. "The walk is No. 1," Russo says. "It's outdoors, you don't really have to interact with anyone, [and] you can distance yourself." And to avoid making a mistake after your walk, check out This Is the Worst Thing You Do Every Time You Walk into Your House.
While there is a "small but finite" risk that inanimate objects could transmit the coronavirus, according to Russo, it should not be a paralyzing concern. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revised its guidelines to reflect this relatively low risk (and to emphasize the risk of person-to-person transmission). So while it's good to take precautions while picking up items from your own front door—like mail, packages, or food deliveries—it doesn't register as a significant risk.
"Remember, we think that transmission is pretty low through inanimate objects," Russo says. "Even if you touch something that could be infected, hand hygiene should take care of that. This is all really pretty safe."
For that matter, Russo considers picking up takeout from a restaurant, with masks and limited person-to-person interaction, not much of a risk either. And to make sure you're getting the most out of your mask, check out Every Face Mask You Can Buy—Ranked by Effectiveness.
Using the ATM
If you're heading to an outdoor ATM, you have the advantage of being able to complete your task in an open-air environment—which we've already established is the safer option. And since you're not encountering a teller, you might be able to avoid other people altogether (assuming that people forming any line behind you do so with social distancing in mind). Yes, you'll touch the buttons on the machine, and you'll touch the cash that comes out—but as long as you disinfect your hands adequately, you should be OK.
"The ATM and the mail are in the same category, where there won't be any personal interactions," Russo concludes, especially if you're pulling up to a drive-thru ATM. "There could be some contamination in the objects you touch, [but] hand hygiene could take care of it. So I'll give it a tie for second." And to make sure you're staying safe, check out This One Item You Touch Every Day Puts You Most at Risk of Coronavirus.
Fueling up your car
Gas stations have the advantage of letting you fuel up your car outdoors, where, again, the risk is lower. Plus, it's a location unlikely to attract dense crowds. So while there might be others there, the spacing of the pumps puts them at a reasonably safe distance away from you. Sure, you will have to touch the pump, but again, you can mitigate any risk through hand hygiene.
"At the gas station, you're going to be outdoors. And while there may be a person at the pump next to you, there's still a fair amount of distancing and you can wear a mask, so I still think that's pretty safe," Russo says. He does, however, rank it as more risky than the aforementioned places where you're more likely to avoid other people entirely. And for more about your car and COVID-19, check out 7 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Get in Your Car.
Shopping at the grocery store
Because it's indoors and almost certainly involves encounters with multiple other people, this common activity takes last place on Russo's list. (However, it should be noted that Russo says all the activities mentioned here are "pretty safe… but do wear a mask and do keep washing your hands.")
"The grocery store is an indoor activity and there's going to be more people there," Russo says. "Even though it's indoors and could be moderately crowded, with people wearing masks, I still think it's relatively safe." And for the surfaces you should avoid while out in the world, check out 6 Things You Should Never Touch in Public, According to the CDC.