Earlier this fall, COVID-19 numbers were ticking down nationwide, and it looked like the pandemic was finally tapering out. But to the dismay of virus experts, that trend didn’t hold. The numbers are rising again—driven, experts say, by unvaccinated people and those who “I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. But I have a feeling it’s not going to be pretty,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, head of the center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN on Nov. 12.
So what does that mean for you, these winter months? Where is it safe to go, and what is best avoided? There are few absolutely clear answers; where you go depends on your personal level of risk tolerance. Earlier this month, STAT News asked 28 virus experts about where they would and wouldn’t go in public these days. These are five places a preponderance of the experts said they wouldn’t go. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
In the biggest overall “no” of the survey, 23 of the 28 experts said they would not attend an indoor concert or event where masking was not required of attendees. Four said they would go if masked themselves. “With a good-fitting N95, the risk is low,” said Sarah Cobey, an associate professor of viral ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. “But this sounds like a situation with shouting or singing at close quarters. Unless others were recently tested and ventilation were excellent, my enthusiasm would be dampened enough to tip the cost/benefit ratio.”
Asked about whether they’d go see a movie in person, twelve of the experts said they would not go to a movie theater. “I am still heartbroken at not being able to see Dune because it just doesn’t feel right to go to a theater while our ICUs are so full,” said coronavirus virologist Angela Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan. Three experts said they would; thirteen said they would while wearing a mask.
Twenty-six of the 28 experts said they would only board public transportation while wearing a mask. Some said they planned to avoid specific modes of travel—like buses and trains—this holiday season because of concerns about spacing and ventilation. Only one expert said they felt comfortable traveling without a mask.
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The expert panel was somewhat split here: Twelve said they wouldn’t attend a Thanksgiving meal where everyone wasn’t vaccinated, 14 said they would and one said they would while masked as much as possible. Several suggested using rapid tests before a gathering to reduce risk to the vulnerable and elderly. “If people can get a Covid test done before the gathering, and if the vulnerable people are boosted, I would feel comfortable,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist and immunologist at Yale University.
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Fifteen of the experts said they would not work out in a gym right now. Thirteen said they would—seven only while masked, while six felt comfortable without a mask. One expert said he would continue to exercise outdoors instead, while Rasmussen said she would forgo the gym for her Peloton bike at home: “Doing cardio while masked sucks,” she said.
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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.