10 activities that can spread the coronavirus, ranked

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Air travel is a riskier activity during the pandemic.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

While millions of people are more protected from severe illness and death from COVID-19 thanks to vaccines, many people remain unvaccinated and unprotected from the delta variant, now the dominant strain in the US. Although vaccinated people are largely protected from the virus, it’s still possible to have breakthrough cases in the fully vaccinated population (although the symptoms tend to be less severe). For all of these reasons, it’s important to be aware of risk level during this time as the variant surges in many areas.

New variants that could be less vulnerable to vaccines are spreading. The delta variant is believed to be 60% more contagious than the alpha variant of COVID-19, which is a huge cause for concern. While it’s possible that vaccinated people could need a booster shot in the future to combat variants, the CDC and FDA say we’re not there yet. In the meantime it’s important to, first of all, get vaccinated if you have not, and also be smart when it comes to being aware of the variant risk. 

The below activities are ranked in order from highest to lowest risk of the chance you could become infected or infect someone else with the virus. An important caveat here is the risk level is significantly higher for unvaccinated people, especially given the delta strain’s level of infectiousness. These activities are based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, as well as expert insight from infectious disease expert and MD Dr. Sandra Kesh

What can you do if you’re vaccinated?

While the CDC says that people who are vaccinated can resume normal activities again, the variants present an increased risk of contracting coronavirus while around other people. It’s still smart to wear a face mask and practice social distancing in high-risk scenarios to prevent breakthrough infections and 언브로큰 lower your risk further. The activities below are less risky for those who are vaccinated, but they are not risk-free.

If you’re not vaccinated

If, for whatever reason, you are not vaccinated, it’s important to wear a face mask and practice social distancing anytime you’re other people outside your household. It’s best to do as few medium- to high-risk activities as possible. The less frequently you expose yourself to risky situations, the less likely you are to contract the virus.

“With most of these activities there is relative risk and it depends largely on two things: the environment and what you do in that environment. The thing that’s hard to control is what’s happening in the environment,” Kesh says. 

Due to the lack of control you have in any environment outside your own home, the exact risk level is largely dependent on individual circumstances, like if your community has high infection rates. Currently, risk level is also much higher depending on the vaccination rates in your state.

Air travel 

Risk level: High

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Flying is considered one of the most high-risk activities you can do during the pandemic.

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Why it’s risky

According to Kesh, flying is one of the riskiest situations to put yourself in when it comes to exposure to COVID-19. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, you should avoid air travel until the majority of the population is vaccinated, 언브로큰 or at the very least, until you’ve received the full dose of the vaccine. 

“Airports tend to be high-stress places. People are always worried about making their flight, going to the security checks — there’s a lot of distraction,” Kesh says. “So the kind of focus that we are able to maintain with social distancing, the masks and hand hygiene, it sometimes goes out the window because your attention is scattered, it’s noisy and you’re trying to figure out where to go. So even people who are well meaning, the rules tend to go by the wayside.”

The other problem with airports is that you can encounter people from all over the country or the world and those people could be coming from high-risk places and carrying the virus with them. 

Once you are on the plane, it’s almost impossible to stay 6 feet apart from others, even if no one is sitting near you. Many airlines have dropped their initial social-distancing measures to block out seats, so you’ll likely be sitting right next to other travelers.

“When you’re sitting on a plane waiting for it to take off, there is no air movement. If you turn on the fan above your head, that’s the only air moving. It’s a really terrific environment for one person to potentially infect the whole plane,” Kesh says. 

Once planes are in flight, however, most use hospital-grade HEPA filters that help maintain clean air throughout the aircraft. According to a recent article published in JAMA, the risk of contracting COVID-19 while on a flight is low mainly because of the air filtration systems. It’s important to note that two of the authors involved with the JAMA article have affiliations with airlines, which is considered a conflict of interest. The CDC also says that while germs do not spread easily on flights because of the filters, 언브로큰 it is difficult to maintain social distancing, which could put you at risk if you’re sitting in close proximity to someone who is infected.

How to reduce risk

If you need to fly, you should wear a mask at all times. Absolutely do not fly if you have been exposed to someone who tested positive within the last two weeks or if you have symptoms yourself. 

Try to book a flight that is less crowded, even if you have to go at a time that is not ideal. Check with airlines to see which are limiting capacity and deep-cleaning planes between flights. 

When you get on the plane, be sure to wipe down your seat and tray with disinfectant wipes. If you can bring a seat cover, that’s even better. If you go to the bathroom on the plane, be sure to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer when you touch anything that others could touch. 

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