3 color-coded charts illustrate the relative coronavirus risks built into activities you might do each day

3 color-coded charts illustrate the relative coronavirus risks built into activities you might do each day
People walk in New York City on August 06, 2020.Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
  • Evaluating the riskiness of different activities during the coronavirus pandemic can be tricky.
  • There is no public activity that is risk-free during the pandemic.
  • But some activities, like going for a walk with a friend, are less risky than others, like attending an indoor party.
  • Four factors raise your risk of catching COVID-19: enclosed spaces, crowds, close contact with others, and difficulty social distancing.

Even as the coronavirus runs rampant in the US, Americans' collective patience with the pandemic is growing thin.

People want to go out to restaurants, bars, and hair salons, and look to beaches, parks, and hikes to fill their summer days.

While such public activities may spark dismay from those concerned with disease transmission, experts say it's good to remember that not all activities are created equal: some are far riskier than others when it comes to contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
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"We were finding just that people really struggled to understand risk dynamics," epidemiologist Saskia Popescu previously told Business Insider. "There was this kind of false dichotomy of either you stay in, or you go out and it's really, really dangerous."

These three color-coded charts show what some of the safest activities are right now, and a few of the worst.

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A few factors distinguish low-risk from situations from high-risk ones

A recent study found that your risk of coronavirus infection primarily has to do with how close you get to people and for how long.

It's not surprising, then, that the risk of infection is higher in enclosed, crowded spaces where it's difficult to maintain 6 feet of distance from other people, and people are in close contact. Here's how activities stack up in terms of coronavirus risk, based on those four factors:
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3 color-coded charts illustrate the relative coronavirus risks built into activities you might do each day
Ruobing Su/Business Insider

One thing that should stand out: your risk of infection is lower outside than indoors.

Indoor activities come with their own spectrum of risk — based on the factors listed above, exercising at a gym may come with less risk than hanging out at a nightclub, while shopping may be less risky than attending a party.
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But even armed with this information, there's no such thing as a safe way to participate in public activities during the pandemic.

"'Safe' implies something absolute. Instead, it's all about risk reduction," William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, previously told Business Insider.

Shopping, outdoor dining, and healthcare appointments are medium-to-low risk

Popescu got together with two of her colleagues to map out which activities they thought were safest, based on four similar risks factors: enclosed space, duration of interaction, crowds, and whether people are forcefully exhaling potentially infectious droplets.
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According to the trio, shopping, outdoor dining, and visiting the doctor are all medium-to-low risk. The graphic below shows all the activities they evaluated.

3 color-coded charts illustrate the relative coronavirus risks built into activities you might do each day
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel - University of Pennsylvania, Dr. James Phillips - George Washington University, Saskia Popescu - University of Arizona/George Mason University

"You can still live your life and not feel so trapped by what's going on right now," Popescu said.
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There are steps you can take to further minimize risks during your daily activities

If you decide to engage in an activity that falls on the higher end of the coronavirus risk spectrum, like working out in a gym, there are guidelines you can follow to lower your risk.

Good handwashing practices, especially before eating or touching your face, keeping a safe distance from others when possible, and using face masks or shields when out in public are all good practices.
3 color-coded charts illustrate the relative coronavirus risks built into activities you might do each day
Olivia Reaney/Business Insider
All told, it's important to remember when you venture out in public that not everyone may be as cautious as you are, Popescu said.
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"I can't assume everybody is doing the right thing and taking the necessary steps in their business, or in that environment," she said, adding, "I'd rather you be cognizant of that."

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