The continuing rise of the Delta variant—and the fact that even vaccinated people can contract and transmit the virus—mean that caution is warranted in public as Americans head into fall. The CDC officially recommends that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people mask up in public settings. Experts say whether to visit those settings at all is a matter of calculated risk: Are you vaccinated? How high is the transmission rate in your local area? Do you live with anyone who is vulnerable? Here’s where and how they say you should exercise caution. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
The Delta variant is much more contagious than earlier strains of the coronavirus, which mean crowded indoor spaces—always a transmission hotspot—are even more risky. You may want to wear a face mask in those situations or skip them altogether. “We should still choose bigger spaces with fewer faces, and if we turn up to a location or event and feel there are too many people, we have to be ready to leave,” Dr. Gwen Murphy, PhD, MPH, director of epidemiology for Let’sGetChecked, told ETNT Health.
Eighty-one countries are now on the CDC’s Level Four COVID risk assessment list, meaning transmission is “very high” there. “Avoid travel to these destinations,” the CDC says bluntly. “If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel.” On the list: the United Kingdom, France, Greece and Spain.
Close quarters, often poorly ventilated—indoor restaurants and bars have been a major source of transmission during the pandemic, and the risk is still there. This week, Hawaii’s state health department reported 20 COVID clusters linked to restaurants. “If you are not vaccinated right now in the United States, you should not go into a bar, you should probably not eat at a restaurant,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN in July. “You are at great risk of becoming infected.”
If you’ve been vaccinated, but live with people who are vulnerable to severe COVID or children who are ineligible for vaccination, you may want to reduce your risk by wearing a mask (when you’re not eating or drinking) or choosing outdoor seating.
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Restaurants nationwide have introduced a number of new COVID safety initiatives, from increased outdoor seating to requiring patrons to present proof of vaccination on entry . However, there’s one type of dine-in experience you might want to think twice about. “Even within all the safety options, buffets are still going to be higher risk,” Kenneth Perry, MD, FACEP, told ETNT Health. “People are going to be closer to each other at the buffet line, and possibly not wearing masks.”
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Every public activity involves an element of risk based on your vaccination status and the number of people you’ll be around indoors. For example: Movie theaters. “The number of people watching a movie with you is going to be the main concern when inside a movie theater,” said Perry. “If a movie theater has appropriate separation between parties, the risk is still probably low, but for new releases where the theater is filled, the risk continues to be too high.”
“You’re not able to open up the doors and windows in those particular cases to increase ventilation, so if you can avoid those large crowds, then I would definitely do so,” Ada Stewart, MD, a family physician in South Carolina and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told CNN.
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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.