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This is the #1 Way You'll Get COVID, Say Doctors

COVID is still around—here’s how to protect yourself.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the virus and its subvariants are still posting a threat to public health. "It's terribly tragic, I mean, the idea of one million deaths in an outbreak, that is historic in nature. We have had nothing like this in well over 104 years," says Dr. Anthony Fauci. "One of the parts about it that adds to the tragedy is that many of those deaths were avoidable." Here are five ways you can still get COVID-19, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Crowded Indoor Events

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Crowded indoor events are still risky in terms of COVID-19, virus experts say. "Even people who have been vaccinated might still be able to spread the virus," says infectious disease specialist Donald Dumford III, MD, MPH. "If people choose to go to an indoor concert, they should wear masks in that location."      

2

Not Wearing a Mask

Woman working textile factory during the COVID-19 pandemic and fixing her facemask
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While mask mandates may be dropping across the U.S., masks remain a highly effective way of avoiding COVID-19. "You can still wear a mask. I mean, even if you're not required to, you still can still do it," says Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "And If you're going to wear one, I think an KN95 or an N95 are the best masks in terms of protecting the user. Early on, you wore a mask to protect those around you. With these high filtration masks, you can better protect yourself… ​​If you have an environment where there's a lot of virus still circulating, you're just increasing the odds that more people are going to get infected. You also have a situation where there are people, especially young children, who can't yet be vaccinated against this and maybe so young as to not really be able to wear a mask either. So that's also part of the reason that you have to be very careful in terms of the judgment about when to lift these mask mandates. The majority of people may be okay, protected through immunity, but there are vulnerable populations."

3

Being Overweight Puts You at Riskt

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Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, according to the CDC. "We have learned that obesity is a risk factor for the severe form of COVID-19, which includes hospital admission, need for intensive care, ventilator support and increased mortality," says Ali Aminian, MD, Director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. 

4

Smoking Cigarettes

Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table
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Smoking and vaping can undermine all your efforts to avoid getting COVID-19, the CDC warns. "We are seeing worse cases of COVID-19 in smokers," says Panagis Galiatsatos, an expert on lung disease at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "Your lungs, which are at the forefront of your immune system, are interacting with the environment with every breath. When you inhale cigarette smoke, germs or allergens, your lungs can get irritated, and that irritation unleashes the immune system to fight that irritation. A coronavirus infection on top of that means that your symptom response is going to be amplified."

5

The #1 Way You'll Get COVID Is…

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Not being vaccinated—or being behind on your booster shots—is the most significant risk factor for getting COVID-19, experts say. Vaccines not only protect against the virus, but may also lessen symptoms of long COVID. "It may not eradicate the symptoms of long COVID, but the protective effect seems to be very strong," says epidemiology professor Michael Edelstein, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

6

How to Stay Safe Out There

African American man in antiviral mask gesturing thumb up during coronavirus vaccination, approving of covid-19 immunization
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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted 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.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more