How risky is it? Infectious disease experts weigh in on the most, least dangerous summer activities

MADISON, Wis.– There’s no such thing as a zero-risk outing right now. Even as more businesses and public spaces reopen, it’s up to you to decide if and where you’ll go.

It can help to think through the risks the way the experts do. Infectious disease experts weigh the risks with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place. The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to anyone who has been infected, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors.

These are three of the riskiest places you can go:

  1. An indoor restaurant. Even with tables spaced out, experts warn people linger in restaurants, so the duration of exposure is longer. You can lower your risk by only dining with the people you’ve been in quarantine with, but even that’s not foolproof. Talking can spread droplets of the virus, and air conditioning can blow those between tables. One of China’s largest outbreaks started in an indoor restaurant.
    2. Church. Worship services involve people from different households coming together inside for an extended time. Experts point to outbreaks linked to churches. In one, 35 out of 92 people who attended a service at a rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19. Your risk goes down when churches adapt. Outdoor services are best. Many Madison churches are opening at 25% capacity with new rules, like no singing, no worship manuals, and everyone spaced six feet apart with masks.
    3. The hair salon. Getting a haircut involves close contact and breathing that’s extended for several minutes. Experts say that is the primary mode of COVID-19 transmission. There’s no way to keep six feet from someone cutting your hair. All it takes is one asymptomatic but infected worker, and suddenly many customers are at high risk of infection. You can lower your risk if both you and your hair-cutter wear masks and don’t talk to each other.Remember: Your personal risk depends on your age and health, the prevalence of the virus in your area, and the precautions you take during any of these activities.

Although every activity comes with a risk, some are much safer than others. These are three of the safest places you can go:

  1. A backyard BBQ. Meeting outside with a small group isn’t too risky, but it depends on who you invite and what their behaviors have been. Infectious disease experts say you should only meet with one other family, and make sure they’ve been following social distancing. To lower your risk even more, avoid sharing food, drinks or utensils, and make it a BYO-everything party. Also watch out for drinking: it can make people sloppy about social distancing and increase the odds that people will want to use your bathroom.
  2. A beach, pool, or park. As long as you can stay six feet from other people, experts say these places are pretty safe. The water itself is not a risk; the sheer volume of it dilutes out the virus. Watch for crowds at entry points and bathrooms. Experts say the biggest concern about pools, parks, and beaches is kids. Make sure they are maintaining social distance on both land and in the water. That’s why bigger beaches are safer than smaller pools.
  3. A public restroom. This one comes as a bit of a surprise, but bathrooms are designed to prevent disease transmission. The main risk comes from restrooms that are small, busy and poorly ventilated, like many gas station bathrooms. Experts say restrooms stocked with paper towels, soap, and toilet paper are typically safe. And make sure you not only wash your hands, but use hand sanitizer after you touch the door handle on your way out.