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Virus Experts Warn You're Most Likely to Get COVID Like This

BA.5 is everywhere—here’s how to stay safe.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The BA.5 subvariant is now responsible for over 88% of COVID-19 cases in the US, scientists warn, making it the most dominant strain. "While it is difficult to predict what variants will arrive next, we scientists cannot rule out the possibility that some of these variants could lead to increased disease severity and higher hospitalization rates," says Suresh V. Kuchipudi, PhD, Professor and Chair of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Penn State. "As the virus continues to evolve, most people will get COVID-19 multiple times even if they are vaccinated and boosted." Here are five ways you're most likely to get COVID, 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.


Not Wearing a Mask

Women with face masks down

Not wearing a mask in crowded areas (especially indoors) may raise your risk of getting COVID. 

"If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work," advises the World Health Organization. "Do it all! Make wearing a mask a normal part of being around other people. The appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal of masks are essential to make them as effective as possible."


Non-Essential Travel

Family with two children going on holiday, wearing face masks at the airport.

Although masks are still required in airports, people are not wearing them—making airports a high-risk area for getting COVID. Virologist Angela Rasmussen was alarmed to see so few people wearing masks at the airport during a recent trip to Southern California. "This is what happens when you don't have politicians and leaders taking a strong stand on this," she says.


Ignoring Community Infection Rates

Happy dating couple in love taking selfie photo on Times Square in New York while travel across USA on honeymoon

Keeping track of COVID cases in your community is crucial for adapting behavior to the risk level, according to the CDC: "Many people in the United States have some protection, or immunity, against COVID-19 due to vaccination, previous infection, or both. This immunity, combined with the availability of tests and treatments, has greatly reduced the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 for many people. At the same time, some people—such as those who are older, are immunocompromised, have certain disabilities, or have certain underlying health conditions—continue to be at higher risk for serious illness."


You Don't Social Distance

Grandmother and grandson separated by social distancing on park bench

"If there's a lot of COVID in the environment – and there is in most parts of the United States right now – if you want to be protected against getting COVID, you have to wear a good mask in crowded indoor spaces," says Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "Those are the places where you're most likely to get it. You need to pay a little bit of attention to distancing. If you are going to be indoors, particularly if you're maskless, you need to think about ventilation and making sure the space is well-ventilated. So none of these things are failsafe. But if you do all of them, then there's a good chance you will remain COVID-free."


You're Not Vaccinated

Doctor holding syringe, medical injection in hand with glove.

Although reinfections can happen, being fully up to date on vaccines and boosters is still the most effective way to protect against serious complications from the virus. "This could be confusing and frustrating for some, and may contribute to vaccine hesitancy," says Dr. Kuchipudi. "Therefore, it is essential to recognize that vaccines protect you from severe disease and death, not necessarily from getting infected."


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.

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 about Ferozan