5 Places You Should Not Go Even if They're Open, According to a Doctor
I'm a doctor and, sad as it is, right now, to stay safe, you need to stay at home. Here's the reason: Wherever there are other people, there will be coronavirus. COVID-19 does not jump up and spread itself—it needs people to do that.
The more people, the closer together, the more shouting, laughing, singing, and clapping, the more sharing of toilet facilities—the higher the risk of viral transmission will be. Large gatherings and crowds equals serious risk of COVID transmission. Although the risk is greater at indoor events, outdoor events are bad news, too.
So here's my message—please don't let this Christmas become a superspreader Christmas. To stay safe, avoid these venues—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Don't Visit Care Homes or Nursing Homes
Even Santa is not welcome in nursing homes this Christmas. Anyone visiting nursing homes could easily and unknowingly spread the virus. an estimated 40% of those infected have no symptoms. If you go on to develop symptoms, you are often most infectious in the few days before the symptoms began—and by then, it's too late.
Here's a Christmas superspreader event to make your eyes water:
A well-intentioned visit by Santa to a nursing home in Antwerp, turned into a superspreader event, resulting in 75 COVID positive infections, which included 14 members of staff. Santa had no symptoms and was unaware he was infected on arrival at the nursing home. He is said to have worn a mask. He walked around the nursing home visiting residents in communal areas. Although they were said to be wearing masks, apparently there is some photographic evidence this was not always the case.
In the U.S., a superspreader incident occurred when a maintenance worker, concerned as the communal dining room had had to be closed, and trying to be kind, personally installed a dining table in the bedroom of each of 40 residents. He was unaware he was infected at the time. Tragically, as a result, 24 people died, two of them fellow maintenance workers.
These incidents have fuelled the request to be able to test anyone and obtain the result before they enter a nursing home. Residents there are older people, who are often frail and are more vulnerable to COVID infection.
Don't Go to the Supermarket
You will be interested to know that recent research from Public Health England has shown that the most common place people visited in the few days before testing positive to COVID, was not a pub or a bar—but a supermarket. 18% had visited a supermarket, whereas only 2% had visited a pub. It's a simple message—get your food delivered where possible.
Places visited in the few days before a positive COVID test according to the U.K. survey:
- Supermarket – 18.3%
- Secondary school – 12.7%
- Primary school – 10.1%
- Hospital – 3.6%
- Care home – 2.8%
- College – 2.4%
- Warehouse – 2.2%
- Nursery preschool – 1.8%
- Pub or bar – 1.6%
- Hospitality – 1.5%
- University – 1.4%
- Manufacture engineering – 1.4%
- Household fewer than five – 1.2%
- General practice – 1.1%
- Gym – 1.1%
- Restaurant or cafe – 1.0%
Don't Go to Bars and Restaurants With Indoor Seating
The big problem with going to bars and restaurants is that you have no idea who else will be there, and their level of risk. This can go very wrong. It's very sad for the bar owners who have often done so much to make the venue safe—but its people's behavior which spreads the virus.
- The Sun newspaper reported an incident involving a 26-year old American woman who had just tested positive to COVID-19; she ignored the rules for self-isolation, and went out on a pub crawl visiting bars in the German town of Garmisch-Partenkitchen. She is known to have infected 59 people, 29 of whom were members of staff. A monumental contact tracing and testing exercise was initiated, which involved testing over 700 people. As a result of the incident, the whole town was put on lockdown and a 10 pm curfew. The woman who caused the incident may now spend 10 years in jail.
- An 8-day superspreader event in a Michigan restaurant and bar, resulted in 144 COVID infections, with a further 44 cases in addition diagnosed in contacts. The venue was criticised for not following the recommendations on social distancing or mask-wearing. Businesses must follow their local state COVID rules.
For the time being, my advice is to avoid bars. Celebrate Christmas at home this year.
Don't Go to Indoor Cinemas, Theatres, or Churches
In Canada, 60 cases of COVID-19 are thought to have originated from a superspreader event at a venue where both a theatre and a restaurant were housed in the same building. One member of the theatre audience who attended was found to have been COVID positive. No members of staff tested positive. This event occurred despite the fact the owners had strict COVID precautions in place, and the venue has since been closed.
Blenheim Church, Ontario, Canada has also been charged with holding a superspreader event. 31 people have tested positive and more than 300 were in quarantine after regular attendance at a number of church services at the end of October. Going to church inevitably means meeting large numbers of people, standing close, hand-holding, hugging, sharing hymn books and singing – all of which are high risk for transmission of infection. Even wearing masks, cannot make much impact because singing is known to expel air more forcefully from the lungs and this makes transmission more likely. Unfortunately, not all church members always wear a mask.
Don't Go to Conferences or Any Other Events Where There are Large Gatherings of People
Further lessons can be learned from what happened in Boston.
A winter conference was held in Boston, February 26th-and 27th—right at the start of the pandemic and run by the drug company Biogen. One hundred people who attended the conference subsequently tested positive. As a result of spread from this initial cohort, over 300,000 people have now been infected, in 29 different states and countries. The virus was described as having an "unstoppable contagious capacity" by the New York Times.
Even outdoor concerts are high-risk. Did you hear the fate of a superspreader yodeling concert in Switzerland in September, attended by 600 people? In October, numbers of infections in the area had jumped from 500 to 1200 cases. This was said to be the highest contagion rate in Europe. Although attendees were asked to social distance, mask-wearing was not requested.
100,000 coronaviruses fit on a pinhead. It's surprisingly easy to breathe them in. Anywhere where there is public speaking, an audience, and in particular where people project their voices or forcibly exhale – will be risky. Keep away from large gatherings indoors or outdoors.
Don't Become a Superspreader
A superspreader is someone who infects more than the usual number of people. In the COVID pandemic, on average each infected person then infects another 2 or 3 other people. But some people infect considerably higher numbers.
Why some people spread more virus than others is not known. Most often, the person is unaware they are infected and unaware they are at risk of passing on the virus. It's not fair to apportion blame when this is completely unintentional, so rather than label a person a superspreader, it preferable to refer to these as superspreader events.
The journal Infection reported more than 40 superspreader events when the authors collated all the published reports recorded up to date, on medical databases. All these were large gatherings which occurred in religious, and sporting settings, school, work, building sites, bars, and restaurants. Many were outdoor settings.
And these superspreader events make solemn reading.
Final Thoughts From the Doctor
Remember what I said right at the beginning of this post. The virus cannot get up and walk. It needs people to spread it. If you want to stay away from the virus—stay away from other people.
It's not possible to never see another soul; we have to live. So that's where social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing comes in. But try and stay with your household bubble and make trips anywhere in the outside world as few and far between as possible.
This Christmas stay on your guard and take care. There will be other Christmases. It's only a few days, and it's not worth throwing caution to the wind and ending up infecting someone you love.
Don't let this become a superspreader Christmas! And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer for Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.