Skip to content

You're Most Likely to Catch COVID Here, Says Study

A new study identifies the riskiest places for COVID infection.
Woman, wearing mask while talking on a mobile phone.

Since the start of the pandemic, researchers have been attempting to identify high risk places for COVID-19 infection. After all, the more information people have regarding how and where the virus is more likely to spread, the easier they can take preventative measures or avoid them altogether. A new study published this week in the journal Nature offers some more insight into these superspreader places—not only identifying them but determining that just a few of them account for a large number of coronavirus infections. Read on to hear how to make your risk assessment, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Avoid These Places to Avoid COVID

The modeling study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and Northwestern University, published on Tuesday reveals that restaurants, gyms, cafes, and hotels are amongst the most frequently visited places accounting for the majority of spread. They also claim that minimizing occupancy can have a serious impact on slowing the spread. 

"Our model predicts that capping points-of-interest at 20% of maximum occupancy can reduce the infections by more than 80%, but we only lose around 40% of the visits when compared to a fully reopening with usual maximum occupancy," Jure Leskovec, one of the authors of the study and associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, revealed during a press conference. "Our work highlights that it doesn't have to be all or nothing."

The researchers used cell phone data to model the potential spread of the virus in 10 of the largest metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.—tracking the hourly movements of 98 million people. They then examined the number of cases in each area, looking at the non-residential places they visited. These "points of interest" included grocery stores, fitness centers, cafes and snack bars, doctor's offices, religious establishments, hotels and motels and full-service restaurants.

"On average across metro areas, full-service restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes, religious organizations, and limited-service restaurants produced the largest predicted increases in infections when reopened," the study says. Researchers noted that "infections are happening very unevenly" — with approximately 10% of points-of-interest accounting for over 80% of all infections. "These are places that are smaller, more crowded and people dwell there longer," Leskovec added during the press conference. 

RELATED: The Unhealthiest Supplements You Shouldn't Take

Reopening Restaurants Was Particularly Risky

"Reopening full-service restaurants was particularly risky," the authors wrote. "In the Chicago metro area, we predicted an additional 596k infections by the end of May, more than triple the next riskiest … category."

The model also noted that lower income neighborhoods are more likely to be impacted, which has a lot to do with their points of interest being smaller, resulting in more crowding, and subsequently, spread. For example, visiting the grocery store in a lower income area is twice as dangerous as in a higher income area. "This is because of grocery stores visited by lower-income individuals have on average 60% more people by square foot, and visitors stay there 17% longer."

As for yourself, seriously consider the risk to yourself and others before going out, and wear your face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties and family gatherings), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.