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35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID

Before you step out, read this essential ranking.
Woman in a face mask sitting at a bar, looking at the camera while holding her smart phone in her hands

If your town is like most areas, local businesses, such as retail stores, bars, and restaurants are probably starting to open their doors. As excited as you may be to revisit your favorite local establishments or get together with friends and family, it's important not to become lax about the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out these 35 places you're most likely to catch COVID so you can better understand the risk associated with your activities. Threat levels are provided on a scale of one to 10, with one being the safest and 10 being the riskiest. These levels are estimated using CDC guidelines and the Texas Medical Association's risk rankings. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


Going to a State Park

waterfall at smith falls state park nebraska
BJ Roshone/Shutterstock

Threat Level: 2

With wide open spaces and outdoor recreation areas, a state park may seem to be one of the safest places to visit during a pandemic. However, there are spots to watch out for as you explore your local state park. Restrooms, visitor centers, or popular attractions may be crowded, making it hard to socially distance. 

"Check with the park or recreation area in advance to prepare safely, use social distancing and avoid crowded parks, wear a mask, and clean hands often," the CDC suggests. Consider visiting the state park at off-times and heading to attractions that aren't as popular.


Getting Gas

man pumping gas into car

Threat Level: 2

As long as you don't choose a crowded gas station that prevents social distancing, you should be relatively safe pumping gas. However, it's important to consider all the hands that have touched the pump and buttons before you. "Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons before you touch them," the CDC recommends. When you're done pumping, use hand sanitizer and don't touch your face until you can thoroughly wash your hands to lower your risk.


Browsing at the Grocery Store

Woman shopping at supermarket

Threat Level: 3

Most grocery stores have strict guidelines in place that require mask wearing and social distancing. However, if someone isn't following the rules or the store is more crowded than usual, you may find yourself at risk for contracting the virus. The more time you spend extremely close to people who may be infected and are talking, coughing, or laughing, the higher your risk for contracting the virus. 

"Going to a market briefly, for five minutes or a transient encounter while you walk or run past someone, those are low risks," according to Dr. Muge Cevik, MD, MSc, MRCP(UK) from the University of St. Andrews. When visiting a grocery store, grab what you need and head out so you don't spend additional risky time in a crowd.


Taking a Walk

A woman wearing protective face mask is seen walking in the park during COVID-19 virus outbreak

Threat Level: 3

A nice walk outside is a great way to clear your head during this stressful pandemic. But it's still important to follow social distancing and mask guidelines in your area to prevent the spread. 

A study published in Physics of Fluids analyzed respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs. The study found that a human cough can expel droplets from 10 to 250 meters per second. If you're planning to take a relaxing walk, try to choose a path that's not very crowded and always practice social distancing.




Threat Level: 4

When you head out to the great outdoors for a hike, you may assume you're safe from COVID-19. But if you're hiking on a crowded trail, you're still at risk. Wearing a face mask and staying six feet away from other hikers reduces your risk. "When you venture outdoors, try to only spend time with people within your household," warns the American Hiking Society. If you follow proper protocol, your risk remains low but it's important to follow your local government's regulations.


Staying at a Hotel

Opened door of hotel room with key in the lock

Threat Level: 4

Before you plan a vacation, it's important to learn more about your destination and how it's faring through the COVID-19 pandemic. If you travel to an area with a high transmission rate, you're putting yourself at higher risk for contracting the virus than if you stay in your hometown.

If you do plan to travel and stay in a hotel, check with the front desk about sanitizing procedures. "When I came in, I would also wipe things down, possibly with alcohol wipes — particularly high-touch surfaces that would have me touch something, then touch my mouth, like a hotel bathroom sink," says Mercedes Carnethon, Ph.D. from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


Taking Your Kids to a Playground

outdoor playground

Threat Level: 4

The amount of risk you take on when visiting a local playground with your children depends on where you live and how crowded the park may be. "Avoid crowded parks, wear a mask as feasible, and stay home if you are sick," is the advice provided by the CDC in regards to visiting playgrounds and local parks.

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Attending a Farmer's Market

Woman picking out kale and leeks at a farmers market or grocery store

Threat Level: 4

If your local farmer's markets are open for business, you may assume it's safe since these events are usually hosted outdoors. However, your risk for spreading COVID-19 at a farmer's market is only low if your local government enforces the proper protocol for vendors. 

For example, at farmer's markets in Washington, "businesses will not be able to serve customers or visitors who aren't wearing face coverings," according to the Washington State Department of Health. Consider how closely your local farmer's market adheres to social distancing and mask guidelines and ensure you feel comfortable with the risk before visiting.


Walking Through Downtown

Masked shoppers in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic

Threat Level: 4

No matter where you live, downtown areas are usually synonymous with crowded sidewalks and bustling businesses. These populated areas can make it hard to socially distance. While most areas implement face mask wearing guidelines when it's hard to socially distance, not all patrons follow these regulations. 

If you plan to visit your local downtown area, wear a mask and attempt to social distance as much as possible. Try to visit the area at a time that's less crowded, such as a weekday afternoon.


Going to an Art Museum

Dinosaur at The Field Museum Chicago

Threat Level: 4

In many areas, art, history, and science museums are experiencing a phased reopening. The guidelines they're required to follow may vary by location but most include mask mandates and social distancing. Some museums may use a reservation system to ensure they can follow these regulations. 

For example, New York museums are allowed "25% of maximum occupancy, inclusive of patrons/visitors, who must only be permitted entry into the institution if they wear an acceptable face covering," according to the Museum Association of New York. If you're worried about the COVID-19 risk associated with visiting an art museum, review the establishment's guidelines first to ensure you feel safe and can enjoy your time.


Waiting in a Doctor's Office

Mature man with face mask sitting in a bright waiting room of a hospital or an office looking at smart phone

Threat Level: 4

Most doctor's offices are still encouraging virtual appointments but there may be some instances when you need to see your doctor face-to-face. Your doctor's office is likely to be implementing strict regulations, including wearing a mask and socially distancing from other patients. 

For example, John Hopkins Medicine claims it has "carefully planned and taken extra precautions to help ensure that we are doing everything we can to minimize any risk to our patients and staff members." They're focused on keeping facilities clean and testing staff for COVID-19 regularly. While being in a waiting room with potentially sick people is risky, you shouldn't avoid the doctor if you need medical treatment. 


Visiting a Library

Laptop and book lying on a desk in classic library

Threat Level: 4

While some libraries may be opening their doors to the public, there are other ways to borrow books or use library services without visiting the establishment. To minimize risk, visit your local library's social media accounts or websites to browse the online services offered.

Libraries are prepared to see a "potential increase in that online traffic and the interest in some of these online support services," according to Catherine Rasberry, Ph.D. from the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health. You may be able to choose your books online and pick them up curbside, which reduces your human-to-human contact and your risk for potentially contracting the virus. 


An Indoor Baby or Bridal Shower

pregnant woman is smoothing her tummy and smiling during baby shower

Threat Level: 5

You never want to miss a family member or good friend's baby or bridal shower but this indoor event may come with a high risk of spreading coronavirus. You're 19 times more likely to catch COVID-19 from someone when hanging out at an indoor event as opposed to outdoors, according to a study that analyzed virus transmission in Japan. This may be because infected respiratory droplets can't disperse as easily indoors.


Shopping in a Retail Store

woman in a clothing store in a medical mask because of a coronovirus

Threat Level: 5

Packed retail stores are a thing of the past and more shoppers simply don't "browse" anymore for fear of increasing their risk of contracting the virus. When you shop in a retail store, it's best to grab what you need efficiently to reduce potential exposure. 

Retailers know the importance of safety and efficiency. A study from Ipsos found that "61% of consumers are still delaying brick-and-mortar retail for fear of getting sick." The survey also found that 62% of consumers are taking their health seriously and will switch retailers if they feel a store isn't taking the proper safety precautions, such as mask mandates and social distancing. Be picky about where you shop and be quick when picking up your goods to reduce your risk.


Hosting a Cook-Out

man barbecuing for family

Threat Level: 5

If you plan to host an outdoor cook-out with only a few friends who you know haven't been exposed to COVID-19, your risk remains low. However, keep in mind, the more attendees you invite to your cook-out, the higher your risk for spreading the virus. Opting to keep everyone inside without social distancing also increases your risk. 

Before planning a get-together at your house, you should review your local and state COVID-19 guidelines, consider your risk for severe illness, and consider your household members' risk for severe illness, the CDC suggests. Everyone should also stand six feet from one another.

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Working in an Office

Computer Analyst Working On Laptop Wearing Face Mask

Threat Level: 6

If you've returned to work in an office environment, it may be nice to see your co-workers in person and not over video chat. But it's still important to be careful about spreading COVID-19. If you share office equipment or chat with co-workers who aren't wearing masks and one of them has COVID-19, it could easily spread to you and throughout the whole office.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" to help businesses reopen safely. The organization urges employers to develop strict employee interaction guidelines, emergency response plans, and policies that isolate sick workers to help stop the spread.


Going Swimming

Close up image of a beautiful female swimmer in a swimming pool getting ready to train.

Threat Level: 6

"There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds," according to the CDC. While you don't need to worry about the water at a public pool, a crowded pool deck may be an issue. 

If you're finding it hard to socially distance while swimming or hanging out on the deck, you're putting yourself at risk for infection. Consider a pool that's less crowded or enforces social distancing restrictions more firmly or skip swimming altogether.


Going to School

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

Threat Level: 6 or higher

Many schools are opening across the country, leaving parents to decide whether they feel safe sending their children back to the classroom. There are many new procedures in place, including mask mandates and social distancing guidelines.

"While current evidence suggests that the risk of severe disease for children is lower overall than for adults, special precautions can be taken to minimize the risk of infection among children, and the benefits of returning to school should also be considered," according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


Going on a Trip With Friends

Group of happy friends taking a selfie from trunk of car

Threat Level: 6

At this point, everyone is getting antsy for a sense of normalcy. If your normalcy involves a fun end-of-summer trip with friends, it may seem safe enough to book a weekend beach getaway by now. But even if your friends are feeling fine, you could be putting yourself at risk. 

As much as 40% of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and have no idea they're carrying the virus, according to the CDC. If you spend a long weekend in close quarters with a friend who's asymptomatic, chances are you'll contract coronavirus, along with your other friends.


Dinner at a Friend's House Inside

dinner party

Threat Level: 6 or higher

It's easy to assume that hanging out with a small group of friends at someone's house is safe. However, the two most important elements to stop the transmission of COVID-19 are mask wearing and social distancing, according to the CDC. If you're at a friend's house with someone who's infected, you're in a dangerous spot. Chances are your friends aren't socially distancing or wearing masks while having dinner inside, which may spread the virus to all dinner party attendees—not to mention, there may be poor ventilation. Golden rule: Eat outdoors. Outside is always better than inside.

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Going to a Wedding

Masked bride and groom during a wedding ceremony

Threat Level: 7

A small outside wedding with social distancing and mask wearing shouldn't pose a high threat to the spread of COVID-19. However, if you're attending a large event that's hosted indoors and doesn't implement CDC best practices, you may be in trouble. Spending an extended period of time in close quarters with a large group of people affords you the highest risk of catching COVID-19. 

"The higher the level of community transmission in the area that the gathering is being held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a gathering," the CDC warns. If the wedding is hosted in an area with high transmission levels, you may want to consider declining the invitation.


On an Airplane

Woman Traveling with Plane with a Mask on For Contagious Disease

Threat Level: 7

Traveling by plane was one of the first activities that became labeled as "dangerous" when the COVID-19 pandemic began. In an airplane, you're in close quarters with a group of people for several hours, which increases potential exposure. 

And it's not just the plane ride you'll need to worry about. "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 states. If you have no choice but to travel by air, keep your hands clean and away from your mouth, wear a mask, and socially distance whenever possible.


Hugging a Friend

Two female friends embracing each other at home

Threat Level: 7

Hugging a friend hello or goodbye may have been commonplace but in a pandemic, this simple gesture becomes dangerous for spreading the virus. If you're dying for a hug from a friend or family member, Dr. Todd Ellerin, MD from South Shore Hospital recommends you first consider the person involved, the place you're planning to hug, and the space you'll have. Only hug a person you know isn't sick or wasn't exposed to the virus and try to initiate the contact while outside and not around other people.


Waiting in Line for To-Go Food

entering restaurant

Threat Level: 7

We already know that COVID-19 is more easily spread indoors and when people don't practice social distancing. If you're waiting in line for to-go food inside a restaurant and close to several people, it can be dangerous for virus spread, according to the CDC. This is especially true if the people around you aren't wearing masks.


Eating Dinner at a Restaurant

Two young women at a lunch in a restaurant

Threat Level: 7

A restaurant that's cautious about COVID-19 and implements the best practices may not be an especially risky establishment to visit. If social distancing guidelines and mask mandates are followed, you're at a lower risk. Outdoor dining is also less dangerous for the spread of COVID-19 than indoor dining. 

However, when you eat at a restaurant, you're still putting yourself at risk for coming into contact with infected individuals. "Before you go to the restaurant, call and ask if all staff are wearing masks while at work," the CDC suggests. You should also ask for an outdoor table and skip interactions with a valet service if possible.


Getting a Haircut

A hairdresser, wearing a protective face mask, works in a barber shop

Threat Level: 7

If you've been rocking that COVID cut for a little too long, you may be anxious to see your hairdresser. But getting a haircut requires a few up-close-and-personal moments with your stylist, which can be risky for spreading coronavirus. 

"There is no way to keep six feet of distance between you and your hairstylist," according to Dr. Ravina Kullar, M.P.H., Pharm.D. from the Infectious Diseases Society of America. If you simply can't wait any longer, ensure your salon and hairdresser are implementing the CDC's best practices, including wearing a face mask at all times.


Playing a Team Sport

Baseball batter hits the ball

Threat Level: 7

Worried about COVID-19? You may want to pause on your team sports for a bit, especially "full competition between teams from different geographic areas," according to the CDC. Depending on the sport you're involved in, you may need to be in close proximity with other teammates or opponents from other areas, which can lead to the spread of coronavirus. 

"Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone, or with members of the same household," is the safest way to continue practicing your sport during the pandemic, recommends the CDC.

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Getting Your Nails Done

Woman in protective medical mask and manicurist.

Threat Level: 7

If you're used to regular manicures or pedicures, you may be itching to get to your nail salon. But just like getting a haircut, this service requires close interaction with other people, which can be risky. 

"The biggest risk in a nail salon is going to be sitting close to other people. If they're not wearing masks, face shields, or both, you could potentially be exposed to infection for a fairly prolonged period of time," according to Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D. from University of California San Diego School of Medicine. If you're at high risk for a severe case or you're worried about contracting the virus, it's best to stick with in-home manicures for now.


Going to the Gym

Young woman drinking water and taking a break after workout in gym,

Threat Level: 8

Gyms and fitness centers have opened in many areas but the CDC is urging gym owners to ensure patrons maintain social distancing guidelines and mask wearing regulations. 

"Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations throughout the workplace for workers and patrons," the CDC recommends. If your gym follows these guidelines to a tee and you abide by the rules, you may not be at high risk for contracting the virus during your workout. However, if your gym is crowded and proper protocol doesn't seem to be in place, consider working out at home to lower your risk.


Going to a Theme Park

family having fun riding a rollercoaster at a theme park

Threat Level: 8

Theme parks have been opening around the country but their guidelines are a bit different. Some parks use a reservation system or only allow for a small percentage of capacity to encourage social distancing. Mask mandates are also in place at many theme parks. 

The CDC warns you're at the highest risk for contracting COVID-19 if "park operations are open at full capacity with no modifications to allow for social distancing." If you're planning to head to a theme park, analyze the park's guidelines first to ensure you feel comfortable with the risk you're taking.


Eating at a Buffet


Threat Level: 8

While you can't contract COVID-19 from food, eating at a buffet may be riskier than a sit-down restaurant. At a buffet, you have more chances to interact with other people and if the restaurant is crowded, it can be tough to socially distance. You're sharing utensils with other potentially infected people so if you touch your nose or mouth, you may contract the virus. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set strict guidelines for buffets and it "recommends frequent washing and sanitizing of all food contact surfaces and utensils." However, if you're worried about coronavirus, it may be best to skip a buffet-style restaurant for a while.

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Visiting Your Local Bar

waitress with a face mask in a bar.

Threat Level: 9

Thinking of grabbing a drink at your favorite bar? Even if your local bars are open, it may not be the safest spot when it comes to spreading COVID-19. If a bar allows patrons to sit near each other, the risk is higher, especially if they've taken off their masks to enjoy a cold one. Coronavirus is more easily transmitted at a bar when "seating capacity is not reduced and tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart," according to the CDC.


Going to Church

Church People Believe Faith Religious Praying

Threat Level: 9

While some religious organizations are still offering online-only services, there have been some establishments that have decided to open. Before attending church, make sure your establishment is implementing the guidelines suggested by the CDC. Social distancing may be tough, especially in a large organization, but it's important to help stop the spread. 

Religious organizations should remain "consistent with applicable federal and State laws and regulations," according to the CDC. If your church doesn't seem to be following these guidelines, you may want to skip Sunday service for a while.


Attending a Sporting Event

Mother with daughter and son among fans at stadium

Threat Level: 9

Professional sporting events are currently being hosted without spectators. But depending on where you live, you may be able to catch a lacrosse game at your local college or you may need to attend your child's pee-wee football game.

Most sporting events are held outdoors, which lowers your risk of virus infection. However, it's still important to wear your mask and maintain social distancing from other spectators (or parents). "Avoid using restroom facilities or concession areas at high traffic times, such as intermission, half-time, or immediately at the end of the event," the CDC recommends.


Hanging With a Sick Person

Two women talking about problems

Threat Level: 10

Have plans with a friend or family member who isn't feeling 100%? Cancel. COVID-19 symptoms are varied and may include a headache, fever, runny nose, nausea, or fatigue, according to the CDC. While your friend may think it's just a hangover or allergies and it's fine to hang out, you're putting yourself at risk without a negative coronavirus test. Refrain from hanging out until you know for sure it's not the virus. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Kelly Hernandez
Kelly Hernandez is a health and wellness writer and certified personal trainer. Read more