As the country begins to reopen, many of us are trying to figure out which places put us at high risk for coronavirus transmission and which are relatively safe to visit. But after months of quarantine, and as the summer season gets underway, it’s reasonable to feel downright desperate to get out of the house and experience the world. Fortunately, there are some options where you can stay safe and feel a sense of adventure again.
“My definition of a safe place is one where the benefits outweigh the risks,” says Leann Poston, MD, of Invigor Medical. “The risk of infection is determined by the number of viral particles, so how concentrated the particles may be and how long I will be exposed.”
Of course, no place is entirely safe from COVID-19—it’s going to be up to you to maintain best practices like social distancing and hand hygiene. But these are the five places that are open now that have a relatively low risk, according to experts. And for the areas you should avoid at all costs, check out the 7 Places You Shouldn’t Visit Even If They’re Open.
A study from Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases found that indoor environments were 18.7 times more likely to lead to coronavirus transmission than outdoor ones—so by their very nature, traditional movie theaters are an exposure risk. They are indoor spaces meant for large groups with seats in close proximity to each other. But drive-in theaters, on the other hand, are a different story. These old-school venues are experiencing a resurgence during the pandemic, providing group-gathering options that allow for entertainment while social distancing in separate cars.
“The benefits include seeing a good movie and socializing with a friend or family member,” Poston says. “The only risks should be if you go to a concession stand or the restroom, so plan ahead.” And if you’re curious when you can see the next blockbuster on the big screen, Here’s When Movie Theaters Will Be Again, According to Experts.
Indoor grocery stores are essential businesses, but how about getting some of your produce in a potentially a safer way? Hit up a farmer’s market, where you can collect your groceries outdoors.
Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, compares the concept to the idea of eating on a restaurant patio, which is safer than dining in. “Outdoor activities, as a general rule, are going to be safer than indoor activities, which have a fixed air volume and limited space,” Russo says. He advises wearing masks, and waiting until crowded booths clear out at a farmers’ market.
According to Russo, u-pick farms might be an even safer bet, affording more room to spread out.
Indoor workout facilities are considered a high risk for virus transmission, and many around the country remain closed. But if you’re looking for an easy way to break a sweat outside of your home, you might try an outdoor gym at a public park or beach.
“People should keep distance, and wipe the equipment before and after use,” says Kunjana Mavunda, MD, of KIDZ Medical Services in Florida. Russo underscores the importance of hand washing here, and always recommends masks anywhere you may encounter other people. But he does note the risk posed by inanimate objects is vastly lower than it is from person-to-person contact. And for a sneak peek of what the world may look like after quarantine, check out the 10 Weird Ways Life Will Be Different After the Coronavirus Lockdown.
Isolated campsites and hiking trails
There are many reasons to want to get outdoors in the midst of a pandemic: It’s great for your mental health, it’s physical exercise, and it’s a daily dose of vitamin D. The risk comes when you encounter other people—but if you can avoid doing that, such as at a remote campsite or sparsely populated hiking trail, you are at a much lower risk. “To decrease risk, I would maintain a social distance and not stay around groups of people in an enclosed environment for any length of time,” Poston says.
Many doctors also note that lakes and beaches can be safe environments, too—if you can avoid the crowds made infamous by news reports of people congregating en masse and rejecting precautions.
“I look at beaches as being incredibly safe as long as you can maintain that physical space,” immunologist Erin Bromage, PhD, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, told MSNBC. “We should be creating six, eight feet of space between our towels, between our groups. But going to the beach, as long as you can maintain that physical space, should be a low-risk endeavor—something you should get to enjoy.” And for the behaviors to avoid if you do decide to go to the beach, check out 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make at the Beach.