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Know Your Risk

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily. One key way it happens: If you're infected, germs can travel into the noses and mouths of others nearby when you talk, cough, or sneeze. That's more likely to occur if you're within 6 feet of each other. And some infected people spread the disease even if they don't have symptoms. To stay healthy, learn which activities are low, medium, and high risk for catching COVID-19.

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Opening the Mail

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to live for a short time on some surfaces. You could get sick if you touch an infected item, then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. This isn't the main way people get sick, though, so your mail is thought to be a very low risk. You don't need to clean your mail when you bring it in, but go ahead and wash your hands for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer, after you touch letters and packages.

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Getting Takeout Meals

Pick up your food order, rather than dine inside a restaurant, and you'll find it's a fast process that can often be done with very little, or no, direct contact. Because of that, experts say drive-through, food delivery service, curbside pick-up, and takeout are low risk. For the safest option, try to order your food from a place that doesn't also offer in-person dining right now.

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Pumping Gas

You have fairly low chances of getting infected when you put gas into your car. And though you may not come into close contact with others, the surfaces you touch could still be germy. Try to use a disinfectant wipe on any buttons or handles before you use them. Once you're done, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you can.

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Playing Tennis

The odds that you'll come down with COVID-19 because of a tennis match are very low. Still, it's a good idea to clean your hands and racquet before and after you play. Keep your distance from others -- even your doubles partner -- and don't share towels, water bottles, or tennis balls if you can help it.

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Grocery Shopping

When you go to the store, you have a low to medium chance of an infection. Be careful to avoid "high-touch" surfaces like door handles and credit card pads. Clean your shopping cart handles, try to stay away from others, and wear a cloth face covering over your mouth and nose. While it's not likely that you'll get sick from touching your groceries, wash your hands at home. Clean your hands again after you put your items away.

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Going for a Walk With Others

If you walk or run outside with a friend, your risk of getting sick will likely stay low if you keep your distance. Make sure that you both wear masks and try your best to stay 6 feet apart. Choose a route that's not crowded. That way, when you pass others, you can give them a wide berth, too.

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Staying at a Hotel

Hotels have many common areas, like the lobby and dining room, where you could cross paths with other guests who may be infected. A few nights' stay comes with a low to medium risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19. To increase your safety, ask for a room that's been vacant for at least 24 hours. Once you arrive, go over light switches, door knobs, and surfaces in the room with disinfectant.

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Shopping at a Mall

Head to the mall and you have a medium chance of getting infected, about the same as if you had dinner inside someone else's house. If you need to shop for an item that just can't wait, try not to touch items that you aren't going to buy. If you try on clothes in a fitting room, don't touch your face until you've washed your hands. Once you get home, change your clothes right away.

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Going to the Beach

Outside spaces tend to be less risky than indoors, but that can drastically change if your beach spot is crowded. Going to the coast comes with a medium risk of getting infected. If you go to the shore, keep at least 6 feet away from others, even when you're in the water.

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Dining Outdoors

You have a low to medium risk of getting sick if you eat outdoors. While the fresh air lowers your chance of coming into contact with germs, you have to take off your mask to eat and drink, and you may still come close to other people. Look for a restaurant that limits the number of diners they serve at once and has spaced their tables 6 feet apart.

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Going to a Bar

Bars are very high risk because they make it so easy for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread. Not only are you spending time in a crowded area, but you need to take your mask off to drink. You may also talk a lot and, if the music is loud, talk loudly. This can all lead to more germs being spread.

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Working Out at a Gym

Although being active is great for your health, going to a gym is a high-risk activity right now. Most people sweat and breathe more heavily when they exercise. That can help spread the virus that causes COVID-19, especially in a confined space like a gym. 

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Eating Indoors at a Restaurant

Dining inside is a high-risk activity. It puts you close to others who may be infected, even if they don't show symptoms. You'll also touch many other items, including the menu and your table, that someone who has COVID-19 may have touched, too. Salad bars, buffets, and soda-refill stations make eating out even more risky, though many restaurants have shut them down for now.

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Traveling by Plane

Air travel is as high risk as eating inside a restaurant. The air that moves around the cabin is filtered, which helps cut down some of the threat. The bigger concern is how many people you come into close contact with -- on the plane and while you're in the airport. If you have to fly, wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth and carry hand sanitizer with you. (A 12-ounce bottle is OK to bring in your carry-on bag.) 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 08/25/2020 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 25, 2020

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SOURCES:

CDC: "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions," "Considerations for Restaurants and Bars," "Running Essential Errands," "Travel During the COVI-19 Pandemic."

Hartford HealthCare: "37 Routine Activities Ranked by Risk of COVID-19 Infection."

Edward-Elmhurst Health: "How to Make Your Home a Coronavirus Safe Zone."

Cleveland Clinic: "COVID-19: How To Determine What Activities Are Safe and What's Worth Skipping," "COVID-19: How To Stay Safe During Outdoor Activities."

UC Davis: "How to Safely Shop During Coronavirus (COVID-19)."

UC Davis Health Newsroom: "Movie theaters may pose less COVID-19 risk than we think, says UC Davis Health Expert."

Texas Medical Association: "What's More Risky, Going to a Bar or Opening the Mail?"

Kaiser Health News: "Bars Serve Up New Rounds of COVID Contagion."

Mayo Clinic: "COVID-19 Safety: Tips for travel, restaurants, and the gym," "Coronavirus travel advice."

Columbia University Irving Medical Center: "Staying Safe in the Summer of COVID-19."

Novant Health: "9 Tips to Stay Safe When You're Out Shopping."
 

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 25, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.