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Ways You're Catching Covid Without Knowing It

Be very careful in these situations.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, you might think you know all the best practices necessary to avoid contracting COVID. But the Delta variant, vaccines, booster shots and the resumption of normal life have changed—and continue to change—the safety equation. Add a bit of COVID fatigue most of us are suffering from, and it's entirely possible you might catch COVID this winter without knowing it. Here's what science and experts say are the most common ways that could happen. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


From Vaccinated People in Your Household

female friends in kitchen preparing together vegetarian meal

A new study has found that fully vaccinated people can still transmit COVID to other members of their household. Writing in the Lancet, researchers in the UK said they've found that fully vaccinated people, even if they have no symptoms, have a 38% chance of transmitting COVID to unvaccinated housemates, and a 25% chance of transmitting it to fully vaccinated housemates. 


If You Haven't Gotten a Booster Shot

Nurse gives students a vaccination in school during coronavirus pandemic

The effectiveness of all three vaccines declines over time: One study found that the Pfizer vaccine's effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 infection declined from 94% to 70% by September. (All three vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death). So if you're in one of the approved groups for booster shots—or one of the currently three states that have authorized them for all adults—getting one can help prevent you from catching COVID-19.

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You're Wearing Your Mask Wrong

woman in a medical mask on her face during the pandemic outdoors

Remember that a face mask should cover your nose and mouth at all times. If you wear a mask below your nose, you can catch—or transmit—the virus readily. The CDC also recommends that you take these steps to ensure you're wearing a mask effectively:

  • Wash your hands before putting on your face mask
  • Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face
  • Don't put the mask around your neck or on your forehead
  • Don't touch the mask; if you do, wash your hands

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You're Not Wearing This Kind of Face Mask

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

Cloth masks may make you feel more protected against COVID than you actually are. Because the highly contagious Delta variant now accounts for almost all new COVID cares in the US, experts now recommend that you wear a high-quality face mask—such as an N95 or KN95— or a surgical mask for the most protection against the virus. An August study found that surgical masks are 95% effective at filtering virus particulates, while cloth masks are only about 37% effective.

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At the Airport

Middle aged couple at an airport during coronavirus pandemic.

If you're traveling by air this holiday season, make sure you're not being vigilant against COVID only on the plane. The airport itself—with its long, crowded lines—is the bigger risk for catching COVID. "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," says the CDC. If you're heading to the airport, wear a mask at all times, and socially distance whenever possible. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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