10 Health Risks You Can't Afford to Take Amid the Coronavirus

From smoking to frequent grocery runs, these are the activities doctors say you need to avoid.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused entire cities to go into lockdown in order to keep the contagion at bay. Unfortunately, this seems to only be the beginning, which means it's now more important than ever to stay safe. Besides avoiding close contact with others and touching your face, there are plenty of other behaviors—like smoking and frequent trips to the grocery store—that experts say you need to nix amid the coronavirus.

Smoking or vaping

closeup of man vaping

There's never been a better time to kick your smoking or vaping habit once and for all. "COVID-19 is a respiratory tract infection, so keeping your lungs healthy has never been more important," says Lucky Sekhon, MD, of RMA of New York. "Anyone with underlying lung disease is going to be at an increased risk of having severe manifestations of COVID-19, including pneumonia. And avoiding toxic exposures to cigarette smoke or the chemicals from vaping will protect your lungs from damage and inflammation that could make them even more vulnerable to severe infection."

Touching commonly used items and surfaces without disinfecting

older asian man looking upset at phone

While washing your hands is crucial, so is keeping other areas squeaky clean.

"Regular thorough hand-washing has been shown to be one of the most important measures in reducing your risk of infection and spreading it to others," says Sekhon. "But it's also important to disinfect regularly-used surfaces, like desks, doorknobs, and cell phones."

Grocery shopping frequently

woman picks up milk at grocery store

The more times you leave your home, the higher your chances are of becoming infected with COVID-19. That's why if you need to get groceries or essentials, Sandra Kesh, MD, deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group, says to try to do your grocery shopping all at once. "Minimize how often you have to take trips beyond your own home," she says. "To some extent, this is a numbers game: The more encounters you have with people outside of your household, the greater your risk of picking up the infection."

Taking new medicine or engaging in high-risk activities

Alcohol and medications

Aside from trying to avoid becoming infected with COVID-19, you also need to do your best to avoid anything that could land you in the emergency room. "This includes taking new medications or supplements—unless it's under the care and guidance of your doctor—and engaging in high-risk activities, like unprotected sexual encounters and excessive drinking," says Kesh.

Right now, hospitals are overloaded with COVID-19 patients. Not only do you not want to risk getting infected at the hospital, but you also don't want to impede doctors and nurses from being able to effectively treat those who are seriously ill with COVID-19 and require immediate attention.

Going to a small gathering

friends and family hugging each other

The only gatherings you should be having right now are over Zoom or FaceTime. "I know we've all been stuck at home for a long time and we want to get out and socialize. You might be thinking it's only 10 or 15 people, and you'll be fine," says Eudene Harry, MD,  medical director at Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida. "Just remember it only takes one person with an infection to put many people at risk. … Think of protecting the people you care about."

Meeting dates in person

Older couple on a date

Movie theaters and restaurants are no longer open, but that's still not stopping people from meeting up for dates, whether that's with someone new or an old flame. While social distancing and isolation may make you feel lonely, Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City, says making any new in-person connections right now isn't worth the risk.

"If you do want to find love, this would be a great time to establish more in-depth conversations with potential romantic partners online, avoiding the need to meet in person or move too quickly," he says.

Assuming you won't get infected

middle aged black woman walking and smiling

Even if you're young with a strong immune system, you can't assume you're safe from becoming infected with COVID-19. "Don't assume you're not going to get infected," says Denise Pate, MD, an internal medicine physician with Medical Offices of Manhattan. "Take every precaution possible." As experts have continued to warn, young people are not immune to COVID-19 or any of its many serious complications.

Or that you're not contagious

young woman and grandmother sit on couch

The symptoms of COVID-19 don't show up immediately after being infected, like many people assume. According to Abe Malkin, MD, a family medicine specialist and the founder and medical director of Concierge MD LA, you could have it without even realizing it. "The incubation period for the virus can be up to 14 days, so patients can be infected several days before they show symptoms," he says.

Showing up at the doctor's office unannounced

closeup of man in mask sitting in doctor's waiting room with cane

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, don't just show up at your doctor's office. "Instead, call your healthcare provider so you can get information on how to get tested," says Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, a Florida-based pharmacist and chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. "It's a health risk where you could potentially infect others or yourself, so make sure you have an appointment first."

Listening to health rumors online

older woman angry in front of laptop

Right now isn't the time to take health advice from just anyone—and yep, that includes your favorite Instagram influencer who has no medical experience. Instead, stick with getting knowledge from the experts. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself in harm's way.

"There are many misleading, if not downright dangerous things on the internet right now. The myths that hot weather, certain DIY hand sanitizers, vitamin C, and garlic kill the coronavirus are prevalent but downright wrong," says Bruce Moskowitz, MD, of Specialty Aesthetic Surgery in New York City. "If you want good information regarding any questions, stick with the Centers for Disease Control."

Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
Filed Under