HuffPo had a clickbaity piece yesterday that caught my attention: The 7 Most Common Places COVID-19 Is Spreading Right Now. Their reporter, Julia Riles, wrote that "contact tracers and experts share where coronavirus transmission rates and risk are the highest during the pandemic." Oh, I already knew that:
North Dakota- 116,871 cases per million residents
South Dakota- 105,348 cases per million residents
Andorra- 96,557 cases per million residents
Iowa- cases 83,224 per million residents
Nebraska- 78,630 cases per million residents
Wisconsin- 77,020 cases per million residents
Utah- 76,083 cases per million residents
Those are the 7 places on earth with the most COVID infections per capita-- tiny, remote Andorra in the Pyrenees between France and Spain + 6 states that voted for Trump in 2016, guaranteeing that the U.S. would be the least able of any country on earth to competently combat a deadly pandemic, or any other calamity, for that matter.
But that isn't what HuffPo had in mind at all. They weren't talking about geography per se; they meant what kind of outside-the-home activities you might participate in that would put you at greatest risk. In other words-- "places where people spend a lot of time congregating together."
Since I've basically stayed in my house-- a thrice-monthly trip to the grocery store, outdoor hikes, one dental visit, two hospital visits and one gas station visit-- since the first week in March, it worried me that she reported that "even people who have played it safe at home, albeit the occasional run to the grocery store, are testing positive, suggesting that retail stores may have a bigger role in community transmission than originally thought. Since it’s difficult to pin down the point of exposure for each and every case, contact tracers and health experts recommend avoiding crowded places with poor air ventilation. 'Try to avoid [these places] if you can, but if you can’t and are compelled to still go out, definitely wear your mask, wear it the right way, and make sure the place you’re going doesn’t have a high volume where people are really mixing,' Daniel Fagbuyi, an emergency physician who served as a biodefense expert in the Obama administration, told HuffPost. Then came the scary part-- where COVID is spreading right now:
• Your House
COVID-19 is spreading like crazy in our own homes. Much of how sick a person gets boils down to how much of the coronavirus they were exposed to and how long they were exposed to it, making our homes home a potential breeding ground.
One report found that if there’s an infected person living in your house, you have an 18% chance of getting infected yourself.
“A majority of people catch it from a family member, either in their household or visiting another family member’s household,” said Michelle Krasowski, a librarian in the San Francisco Bay Area who is contact tracing. This is especially true for lower-income families living in smaller spaces with more people, Krasowski added.
• Social Gatherings
Krasowski said gatherings of all shapes and sizes have popped up in her contact tracing work.
“People have caught it at small gatherings of less than six people, both indoors and outdoors. People have caught it going to family gatherings,” Krasowski said.
In general, the risk of a gathering depends on the odds an infectious person is in the group, and if so, the chance they could transmit the virus to you, according to Bershteyn. Smaller gatherings are generally safer because there’s a lower chance someone in the group could be infected.
• Restaurants And Bars
Much of the contact tracing data published online has consistently found that bars and restaurants have played a role in transmission... [N]ot all dining experiences are equivalent. The risk is likely lower with outdoor dining that’s generously spaced out. If you’re dining indoors or in a tent where people’s masks are off and airflow is stifled, that risk grows exponentially.
• Gyms And Fitness Studios
A recent study evaluating cell phone and transmission data determined that gyms were the second-riskiest place for catching COVID-19, after restaurants.
When people work out, they huff and puff more than usual, shooting respiratory droplets out across the room. If there’s not much airflow, their droplets can hang in the air for hours and later be inhaled.
• Religious Services
At churches and religious gatherings, people tend to sing or pray-- expelling droplets into the air-- and congregate together indoors for a lengthy period of time.
• Certain Workplaces
Montana’s contact tracers estimate that 1 in 6 people are exposed at work, and Vermont’s data shows workplaces have been connected to multiple outbreaks. Krasowski said workplace exposure is definitely an issue she’s seeing in her area on the West Coast as well.
“The fact that the infectious period peaks before the symptomatic period means that people are going to work when they’re already contagious, but they would have no way of knowing that,” Krasowski said.
Remember: COVID-19 is airborne, so simply being in the same office as an infected person comes with some level of risk.
Contact tracers have found manufacturing plants and warehouses to be the source of several outbreaks.
• Stores And Shops
It’s generally thought that a quick visit to the store isn’t too risky, but as contact tracers collect more data on potential exposures in retail environments, people are beginning to question the safety of retail stores.
A study from Boston also found that grocery store workers have a substantial risk since they interact with so many customers, many of whom don’t wear masks properly.
Additionally, some contact tracing data suggests that around half of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have no idea where they could have picked it up. Krasowski said she’s spoken to some people who are very cautious-- they work out of their homes and have only gone to the grocery store, but they’ve still caught it.
“That really makes you wonder whether some of these seemingly necessarily things like going out for grocery may be contributing, to some extent, to transmission,” Bershteyn said.
Three times a month to a grocery store-- and with mask, goggles and one-use nitrile gloves-- is all I'm willing to risk. Maybe that's too much? I'm still waiting for my doctor, a world-renowned medical research scientist, to tell me when its safe to be vaccinated. She hasn't yet. As for airplanes... LOL.