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The Riskiest Places for Catching COVID

From hotels to prisons, find out how all sorts of locales rank when it comes to coronavirus risk.

As soon as lockdown lifted and states started reopening, the question on most people's minds was the same: What are the riskiest places when it comes to potential COVID-19 infection? Nonprofit journalism outlet CivicMeter conducted a survey of 27 epidemiologists, asking them to rate the risk of contracting COVID-19 at each venue in the United States on a scale of 1-10. Whether you prefer the hair salon, church, your local watering hole, or your local Target store, you might be surprised how your go-to locales rank—click through to find out. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


Outside Gatherings (Socially Distanced)

Senior woman and daughter having coffee at safety distance in the garden.

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 3.73

The least risky activity on the list is outside gathering where social distancing is maintained. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading coronavirus expert, has always maintained that "Outdoors is better than indoors." Recently, he even encouraged people to "get outdoors and interact" while wearing their masks and social distancing. 



Opened door of hotel room with key in the lock

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 4.42

While many people worry about lodging in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, it is relatively safe. To make sure your overnight stay is as safe as possible, the CDC recommends making sure the hotel requires people to wear a mask, promotes social distancing, is using online or contactless reservations and check-in as well as contactless payment, and maintains enhanced cleaning procedures.


Restaurants (Outdoor Seating)

Happy waiter wearing protective face mask while showing menu on digital tablet to female guest in a cafe.

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 4.62

If you feel the need to eat out, make sure your meal is al fresco. "If you're going to go to a restaurant, try as best as you can to have outdoor seating that is properly spaced between the tables," Dr. Fauci recently suggested in an interview with MarketWatch




Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 4.81

Feeling like taking a stroll through a museum? According to the epidemiologists surveyed, it is one of the least likely activities to result in a coronavirus infection—although there is still risk.

RELATED: 11 Symptoms of COVID You Never Want to Get


Public Bathrooms

Bathroom in the office

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 4.85

While flushing a toilet can theoretically splatter tiny virus droplets around a room in the form of feces, you aren't very likely to get infected via that way. However, research has established that the most likely way you will come into contact with the virus is via others who are sharing the space with you. 



woman with protective mask reading label on the bottle while buying hand soap in the supermarket during virus epidemic

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.0

While going to the store was a big concern in the beginning of the pandemic, there have been few cases linked to shopping excursions. Even Dr. Fauci goes grocery shopping. "I do physically go to the grocery store, but I wear a mask and keep my distance. I usually go at odd times," he recently told The Washington Post. To stay safe, the CDC recommends following their usual protocol: wear a mask, stay six feet apart from other shoppers, and practice hand hygiene. 



people with face masks back at work in office after lockdown, talking

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.27

Returning to work at an office doesn't come without risk, which is why many companies—including Google—have opted to keep theirs closed. Everything from ventilation inside of an office to the density of employees in the space can impact coronavirus risk in the office setting, according to the CDC

RELATED: I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor and Would Never Touch This


Taxi/Uber (With Windows Down)

male taxi driver wearing face protective medical mask driving car with passenger

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.27

If you need to get around, your best bet is taking a taxi or an Uber instead of public transportation. While it isn't risk free, at least you can avoid being close to strangers. However, the CDC does recommend making ventilation a priority. "Ask the driver to improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible—for example, by opening the windows or setting the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode," they say. Also, avoid pooled rides, touching any surfaces, and make sure to sanitize your hands. 



Woman wearing red face mask getting fresh styling at a hairdresser shop

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.35

While the safest way to get a cut and color is in the comfort of your home, salons aren't the worst place you can be during the pandemic. In fact, according to a report published by the CDC two symptomatic stylists exposed 139 clients to the virus without infecting anyone—likely due to the simple fact they were wearing masks. 


Public Transportation (Socially Distanced)


Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.54

Should you hop on the subway, a train, or another form of public transportation? While getting from point A to point B isn't as risky as getting on an airplane, experts do encourage social distancing to reduce your chances of infection. "During travel, try to keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) from people who are not in your household—for example, when you are waiting at a bus station or selecting seats on a train," the CDC explains. They also suggest practicing diligent hand hygiene and avoiding touching any surfaces during the ride.



Teacher and children with face mask back at school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown.

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 5.64

How safe are schools when it comes to coronavirus? Depends on who you ask. Whether or not to reopen schools for in-person learning has been a controversial topic amongst educators, health experts, politicians, and parents. And, according to the doctors surveyed, the risk of catching the virus in an educational setting is pretty much dead center amongst other places. 

RELATED: 11 COVID Symptoms No One Talks About But Should



Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 6.24

While it might seem as though hospitals are hot zones for coronavirus infection, they are actually safer than many other places due to strictly enforced protocol. 



A young woman wearing face mask is traveling on airplane , New normal travel after covid-19 pandemic

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 6.65

You won't find Dr. Fauci flying the friendly skies anytime soon. "I don't fancy seeing myself getting infected, which is a risk when you're getting on a plane, particularly with the amount of infection that's going on right now," he recently told MarketWatch. However, due to how air circulates and is filtered on a plane, it isn't the virus in the air you should be worrying about. "Social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19," explains the CDC



Virus mask woman travel wearing face protection in prevention for coronavirus at airport.

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 6.73

While most people are more afraid of catching coronavirus on an airplane, airports are actually riskier. "Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces," the CDC points out. 


Outside Gatherings (Not Socially Distanced)

man barbecuing for family

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 7.38

Outdoors might be better than indoors. However, if you aren't socially distancing you are putting yourself at a serious risk. Several of these types of social situations across the country — ranging from family barbecues to graduation parties have been linked to large outbreaks. 

RELATED: Signs COVID-19 is in Your Brain



woman doing lunges at the gym wearing n95 face mask

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 7.50

Fauci recently told The Washington Post that he would not visit a gym at this point—and most epidemiologists agree. One study early in the pandemic found that certain types of workout situations are riskier than others when it comes to viral transmission. While many people opted to return to their favorite fitness studios, there have been virus outbreaks reported, including a recent one in California. 


Outdoor Stadiums for Large Events

Woman standing and cheering at a baseball game

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 7.54

"I put stadiums in the same category as rock concerts. Even probably higher perhaps than nursing homes and jails and cruise ships. They're similar because they're all congregate settings," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, told WCCO. What this means is that there are a lot of noses and mouths close to other noses and mouths. Additionally, these kinds of settings can involve alcohol. "All of the sudden you lose your inhibitions. The way I talk about stadiums, when I talk with my colleagues, it's almost like an adult pre-school. It's not pre-school in a pejorative way, it's we have wild abandon, we're free to enjoy each other's company. It's that communal aspect," he said. 


Restaurants (Indoor Seating)

family restaurant

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 7.54

Dr. Fauci recently told MarketWatch to avoid indoor eating altogether. When asked if outdoor dining was really safer than indoor, he had no qualms about laying down the law. "Yes, absolutely. Indoors is much worse than outdoors," Dr. Fauci replied. 


Indoor Theaters/Churches

people eating popcorn in movie theater, focus on hands

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 8.15

Churches have emerged as some of the most dangerous places for coronavirus. Not only do most services take place indoors, but involve a lot of speaking, shouting, and singing—as which makes for the easy spread of infected respiratory droplets. According to The New York Times, over 650 cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. 


Nursing Homes

Family of elderly,senior woman,child girl are talking by maintain distancing,prevent infection of flu,Coronavirus,pandemic of Covid-19,people with prevention mask,maintain social distance for safety

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 8.73

When it comes to COVID, nursing homes are hot zones for the virus. According to statistics, more than 40 percent of all COVID-related deaths have been linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities and the CDC maintains populations in these types of residences are at a higher risk. 


And the #1 Worst Place You Could Go is To….Bars

Men and guys out drinking beer at a bar

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 8.85

The first venue to tie for the riskiest place for coronavirus is your local watering hole. "Congregation at a bar inside is bad news," Dr. Fauci recently stated. "We really got to stop that. Right now." A number of large outbreaks across the world have been tied to bars and nightclubs, places which make social distancing nearly impossible. 

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says You're Most Likely to Catch COVID Here


Also Tying for Worst: Jails/Prisons

Watch tower at a CA State Prison

Risk on Scale of 1 to 10: 8.85

Who would have ever thought that bars could be just as dangerous as jails and prisons? However, when it comes to coronavirus, the two are equally as risky. A number of large outbreaks have been linked to jails and prisons, due to the close proximity of those residing in them. "Incarcerated/detained persons live, work, eat, study, and participate in activities within congregate environments, heightening the potential for SARS-CoV-2 to spread once introduced," the CDC explains. 


How to Stay Safe During COVID-19

Women hands holding hand sanitizer with alcohol spray and surgical mask.

No matter where you live: Wear your face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah