The 4 Places Where You Are Most Likely To Catch COVID-19
COVID-19 has been one of the scariest events of our time. We have to worry that every interaction and every visit to the store might infect us with a potentially fatal virus.
However, a recent study published in the journal Nature simulated the spread of COVID-19 in 10 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas to uncover various patterns. And their findings are fascinating: they predict that 80% of COVID-19 infections come from only four kinds of places.
What are these places, and what can you do to mitigate risks to yourself and your family? Here are the four places where you are most likely to catch COVID-19.
One of the major sources of COVID infection is restaurants. The study found that both full-service and limited-service restaurants can put you at risk.
This isn’t really that surprising. Even restaurants that only do pick-up orders only see large amounts of foot traffic each day. You could easily come into contact with an infected person simply by getting in a line to grab a takeout order.
Full-service restaurants pose a greater risk. Even in businesses that modify seating to encourage social distancing, the fact that you are in restaurants for longer periods of time effectively increases your risks. The fact is, in order to eat and drink, you must take off your mask.
Gyms are another area where you are most likely to catch COVID-19. As with restaurants, these particular findings aren’t that surprising.
While some gyms are larger than others, most gyms pack many members into tight spaces, especially during peak hours. And even when there aren’t that many people in the gym at one time, the fact that everyone is using the same equipment increases the risks.
Gym owners and gym patrons can mitigate these risks by regularly cleaning equipment and putting social distance measures into place. But the truth is that you will be much safer simply exercising at home for the foreseeable future.
The travel industry has been severely affected by COVID-19. However, this may be for the best because hotels are one of the places where you are likeliest to catch an infection.
This may seem surprising if you think about a hotel only in terms of staying in your room. But keep in mind that you will come into contact with many other people in lobbies, shared dining areas, swimming pools, and elevators. Even having room service delivered to your door increases your potential risk of infection.
Generally speaking, the risk goes up when more people are packing into the same hotel. The Nature study specifically called out hotel infection rates in Miami during March that corresponded to college students traveling south for Spring Break.
Houses of Worship
Churches and other houses of worship have become a political battlefield in the time of COVID-19. Recently, the Supreme Court handed religious groups in California a victory by ensuring that religious gatherings could not be banned in the state by the governor.
Unfortunately, the Nature study confirmed that houses of worship are one of the likeliest vectors for COVID-19 infection. And that is because these places provide numerous opportunities for infection.
The average church packs members pretty tightly into pews. And groups that comprise religious ceremonies (such as church choirs) similarly pack members very tightly together. Finally, numerous church fellowship activities encourage members to come into close contact with one another. And certain religious rituals that involve eating or drinking require the removal of masks.
Put it all together and you have a very high likelihood of infection.
Other locations where your COVID-19 risk goes up
We have reviewed the four locations that comprise 80% of COVID-19 infections. However, there are other places you should be wary of in certain situations.
The best example of this is would be the grocery store. While grocery stores are not in the “top four,” grocery stores in lower-income areas present a greater degree of risk to shoppers.
Why is this? As Stanford University Professor (and co-author of the study) Jure Leskovec points out (via The New York Post), “Grocery stores visited by lower-income individuals have on average 60 percent more people by square foot, and visitors stay there 17 percent longer.”
Put more bluntly, “One visit to a grocery store is twice more dangerous for a lower-income individual compared to a higher-income individual.”
Obviously, people cannot easily change either their residence or their socioeconomic status. But it is wise to minimize trips to the grocery store whenever possible and limit how much time you spend there.
Limitations of the study
The data from this study is very compelling. However, every study has its limitations, and this study is no exception.
First of all, the conclusions drawn were based on a simulation, not a real-life experiment. The model used in the simulation was derived from mobile phone data that tracked the movements of 98 million people to points of interest (such as restaurants and grocery stores) in 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas.
However, the model did not track people going to other dense, highly-populated locations such as schools, prisons or nursing homes. So, are you more likely to catch COVID-19 at a nursing home than a hotel? This study does not tell us.
However, the study does tell us that “restricting the maximum occupancy at each point of interest is more effective than uniformly reducing mobility.” In other words, the more crowded an area is, the more likely your chances of catching COVID-19 will go up.