When dealing with questions of public health, it's difficult not to think in terms of risk for the simple fact that everything is risky. Spending a day at the beach, people increase their chances of getting skin cancer. If you eat meat at a restaurant, then you take a chance with contracting harmful gastro bacteria like E coli and salmonella. Now, add coronavirus to the tableau of public health risks, a nightmare scape of dangers that make hypochondriacs seem like the wise ones.
It seems that we can't even assemble in public, unless we're prepared to throw the dice with COVID-19. True as this perception is, it needs qualification. Yes, going out can be dangerous, and we should all physically keep to ourselves to the extent that we can during these trying times. Yet, it isn't always possible. Much as we might like to at times, we can't all indefinitely reside in a bubble-wrapped cocoon of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.
Most people need to leave their homes for some errand or another. Given the inevitability of that fact, people should have some modest appreciation of the specific risks in all their frightening, granular detail. In this way, everyone can hopefully come to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones about what they are and are not prepared to risk.
A news outlet in Michigan, MLive.com, recently interviewed four public health experts for this very purpose. They ranked a list of 36 activities on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the riskiest in terms of coronavirus threats.
Experts said they weighed the different activities with five criteria in mind: "Whether it's inside or outside, proximity to others, exposure time, likelihood of compliance, and personal risk level."
Outside is generally safer because there are no quarters to cramp. Some activities necessitate getting closer to people than others. For instance, a hairstylist appointment is riskier than a tennis match, even though both need only involve two participants. Some things also take longer than others, and the more protracted the exposure, the greater the risk.
Likelihood of compliance is more difficult to measure; setting is important here. For example, people at a bar will be drinking and less likely to comply for that reason alone. The personal risk level is something the individual has to consider for his or herself. What makes sense to a 19-year-old with a clean medical record almost certainly won't apply to a septuagenarian with diabetes.
The list is reprinted here in descending order, or from riskiest to safest.
2.Large music gatherings (9)
3.Sports stadiums (8)
5.Amusement parks (8)
9.Public pools (7)
12.Restaurants, indoor seating (6)
14.Hair salons, barbershops (6)
15.Pontoon boat rides (6)
16.Movie theaters (6)
17.Dinner parties at a house (5)
19.Backyard barbecues (5)
23.Dentist's offices (4)
24.Walking in a busy downtown (4)
26.Doctor's office waiting rooms (4)
27.Eating outside at a restaurant (4)
28.Getting groceries (3)
32.Libraries and museums (3)
33.Going for a walk, run, or bike ride with others (2)
34.Getting fuel (2)
35.Getting takeout from a restaurant (1)
36.Playing tennis (1)
The setting and activity matter, but behavior is also important. The good news is that most personal prevention tactics are simple and relatively easy to follow. Don't touch your face. Wash your hands frequently. Wear PPE. Socially distance by keeping at least six feet away from the nearest person to you. Frequently disinfect surfaces in the home.