MCW Science Says: Activity Risk Assessments During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Supported by research and data, #MCWScienceSays features expert replies to common myths about living healthy during the #COVID19 pandemic. MCW infectious disease specialist Joyce Sanchez, MD, FACP, breaks down the risk associated with several common activities and how one can mitigate risk.


Travelling Activities


flying on an airplane is moderate to high risk

Although circulated air is filtered on airplanes, distancing is not always possible, especially on crowded flights. Air travel also includes time spent in security lines, terminals, and gates, which can bring you in close contact with others coming from across the globe. Contact your airline to inform yourself about face covering policies, disinfection protocols and any accommodations made to limit the number of people of a flight.

staying at a hotel or rental property is moderate to low risk

The risks of staying at hotel rooms and rental properties can be relatively low. Risk may be higher depending on the nature and amount of time spent in common areas such as check in desks or lounges. Risk becomes much higher for any time spent in workout facilities or pools where distancing indoors may be difficult. Avoid using elevators with people outside of your household. Take the opportunity to exercise and use the stairs, if able. Before booking, understand the state of the pandemic in that region, as you will likely be out of the home to purchasing essential items. Disinfect high touch surfaces upon your arrival, disinfect your hands often, distance from others and wear face covering while in public places.

taking public transportation is moderate to high risk

Public transportation carries risk due to the volume of people sharing enclosed spaces, including shared rides and indoor stops which may not have options to distance. Try to avoid peak travel times, sit at least 2 rows from others when possible, wear a face covering, and disinfect your hands after touching surfaces.


Public Dining Activities

eating at a restaurant outside is moderate to low risk

Dining outdoors is probably lower risk than indoors due to the dilution of any virus present into the outdoor air. Distancing is still important, as is wearing a face covering when not actively eating or drinking and disinfecting your hands before and after dining. 

eating at a restaurant inside is moderate to high risk

Indoor dining caries higher risk than outdoor dining due to shared enclosed spaces with others. Distancing and wearing a face covering are recommended while not actively eating or drinking. Ask in advance what accommodations have been made to distance tables and what policies are in place for face coverings and disinfection. Opt for outdoor dining if available and weather permits.


Exercise Activities

hiking on a trail is moderate to low risk 

Outdoor exercise can be one of safest activities you can engage in due to outdoor air effectively diluting any expelled virus and better ability to distance from others. It is still important to bring a face covering with you just in case you find yourself in a position where you may not be able to distance from others outside of your home.

working out at the gym is high risk 

Working out at a gym involves sharing spaces and equipment and engaging in activities which allow for more forceful expelling of droplets. Certain activities also involve close contact with others. Consider your personal health risks, the health risks of those who you come into contact with and the state of the pandemic in your local community. Inform yourself what precautions are being taken at the gym including distancing costumers and equipment, disinfection, and face wearing policies.

For more info and resources, visit the Medical College of Wisconsin COVID-19 website.

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