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"Most Likely Places" You'll Catch Omicron

“The next few weeks will be tough,” warned Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

"The next few weeks will be tough," warned Surgeon General Vivek Murthy last week, noting that Omicron is far from peaking nationwide. "The challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace." Although cases are declining in the Northeast, they're surging in other parts of the country, filling hospital beds and straining some health systems to the limit. Experts say it's still important to guard against contracting COVID-19. These are some of the hotspots to avoid.  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.


A Crowded, Poorly Ventilated Gym

multiracial group of 20 or 30-something adults on bikes in an indoor cycling class
Shutterstock / vectorfusionart

A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology calculated the riskiest places for catching COVID. The researchers determined that risk depends on people factors (such as whether people are masked or unmasked, exercising or still, vocalizing or quiet) and air-quality factors (such as indoors vs. outdoors, a big room vs. a small room, crowded vs. uncrowded, or ventilated vs. unventilated). According to a risk table the researchers developed, the place with the highest risk is a crowded, poorly ventilated area where people are exercising heavily.


Indoor Restaurants and Bars

woman with red curly hair laughing with her two friends in a restaurant
Shutterstock / Zoran Zeremski

Indoor restaurants and bars continue to be a major COVID risk. "Dining in right now as Omicron is sweeping across the state is risky because in order to dine you must take off your mask," said Dr. Christine Petersen, an infectious-disease at the University of Iowa, on Friday. "We all know that then puts you at risk for getting infected not just with COVID, but flu is also being widely spread right now."

Her suggestion: Stick to takeout. "What we do know really well is this virus does not spread on surfaces, so getting takeout boxes from a restaurant is not a risk to you at all," said Petersen.


Nightclubs or Concert Venues

Girl enjoying the outdoor music festival concert. -

Just like indoor restaurants and bars, concert venues and clubs are a major risk for COVID transmission. The reason: They're usually poorly ventilated and packed with people who are maskless and talking, chanting, or singing, potentially expelling lots of virus particles into the air. The Environmental Science & Technology researchers called "gather[ing] together with lots of people in an enclosed space with poor air quality" a "surefire way to catch COVID-19," listing nightclubs as an example.

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Crowded Stores

girl in a protective medical mask looks at the camera and stands in line at the cash register in a supermarket

A recent UK study found that people who visited stores once a week were nearly 2.2 times more likely to contract COVID—the highest-risk activity the researchers found, an even higher risk than going to bars or taking public transportation. Several public health experts worldwide have urged people to avoid in-person shopping until the Omicron surge recedes.

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These Countries

woman sitting inside airplane wearing KN95 FFP2 protective mask

Last week, the CDC moved 22 more countries—including several popular tourist islands—to Level 4 status, or places where Americans are advised not to travel. (In this case, because of the "very high" spread of COVID-19.) They include Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Israel. Overall, more than 100 countries are now on the list, which you can see here.

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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