I'm a Virus Expert and I Warn You Not to Go Here Even if it's Open
COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have essentially been lifted across the US—but that doesn't mean the virus has disappeared. "New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are detected every week," says Stuart Campbell Ray, M.D., vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Most come and go — some persist, but don't become more common; some increase in the population for a while, and then fizzle out. When a change in the infection pattern first pops up, it can be very hard to tell what's driving the trend — changes to the virus, or changes in human behavior. It is worrisome that similar changes to the spike protein are arising independently on multiple continents." Here are five places you should still avoid, even if they are open, 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.
Sorry, gym fanatics—but indoor workout spaces are still very risky in terms of infection. Not only are people often forced into close contact, but they're breathing out more particles as a natural result of exercise. "If you're not willing to get COVID don't go," says Dr. Michael Klompas, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "At a time like now, when there's a lot of COVID around, it is a high risk proposition."
Nail Salons and Spas
Still have that at-home nail kit you got at the start of the pandemic? Good, because you might need to start using it again instead of going into a salon, where close contact with a technician is unavoidable. "By nature, these services require more close, physical contact which can raise your risk of exposure," says Dr. Neha Vyas, MD, family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.
There's nothing like a few drinks to make you lower your guard in terms of COVID-19 precautions, especially in a poorly-ventilated bar or restaurant where you're sitting close to others. "Alcohol lowers your inhibition and judgment, and in the setting of loud music in a bar or nightclub, often makes you move closer to other people," says Dr. Robert Glatter, E.R. physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
"When I'm in a loud situation, I tend to turn my head or my ear towards that person's mouth, but then their exhaled breath comes straight towards my face," says Dr. Julian W. Tang, associate professor at the University of Leicester in the U.K. "It makes me inhale even more of the air that they are exhaling that could be carrying virus. And louder speaking also expels more droplets. As people become intoxicated, they tend to talk louder, tell jokes or sing, which spreads more droplets. If you are telling a joke surrounded by people laughing in response, you may get much more exposure to their exhaled air that may be carrying virus because they are laughing towards you."
Nursing and Retirement Homes
Nursing homes were hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic, and elderly people are still at risk of getting severe complications from COVID-19, experts warn. "COVID-19 is still a threat to nursing home residents and staff, particularly given the rise of the recent Omicron variant," says the AARP. "Hundreds of residents continue to die from the virus each month, so some infection control practices remain, such as face coverings and physical distancing."
With the BA.2 subvariant spreading across the US, unnecessary travel could be risky. "Whatever the risk was with Delta, we would have to assume the risk would be two to three times greater with Omicron, just as we've seen in other environments," says David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association. "Whatever that low risk—we don't know what it is—on the airplane, it must be increased by a similar amount… Avoid common-touch surfaces, hand hygiene wherever possible, masks, distancing, controlled-boarding procedures, try to avoid face-to-face contact with other customers, try to avoid being unmasked in flight, for meal and drink services, apart from when really necessary."
How to Stay Safe Out There
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.