I'm an Infectious Disease Expert and Warn You Don't Go Here
This month, more and more of us are tentatively stepping into our old routines: headed back to school, back to offices, and, for some, even back to travel. But even though many places across the country are reopening fully, it doesn't mean that those venues are necessarily safe. The US is still near the peak of a surge in COVID-19 infections, which puts us all at risk. Even those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can still become infected and spread the virus, and while vaccinated people are far more protected than those unvaccinated, the risk of severe illness and death is still not at zero.
Below are five places I would avoid, even though I am fully vaccinated. These choices are not dictated by the government or the CDC but are based instead on my own educated understanding of the virus, how it spreads, and how we can best contain it. I count myself among the fortunate, able to work remotely and decline any work trips abroad. There are many others who are unable to do the same, and I know that they may not be able to follow the same strict rules. If you do have options though, here are five places where I personally would choose not to go, even as a fully vaccinated American. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Football Games, Music Festivals, Rallies, or Any Large, Tightly-Packed Outdoor Gatherings
Over the past month, we've seen rather disconcerting news from Michigan and Oregon tying COVID-19 outbreaks to two separate outdoor music festivals held in each state. In Michigan, at least 96 cases can be traced to the Faster Horses Festival in July. That same month, Oregon held the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest which led to at least 62 new infections. While neither event required people to be vaccinated, attendees were required to wear masks and to maintain an appropriate distance, though images from the events suggested not all attendees followed the rules. In other parts of the world, outdoor music festivals have led to much larger outbreaks, into the thousands. For now, consider any large event, either indoors or outdoors, a risky gathering.
Any Indoor Event or Gathering, Unless….
….unless everyone is masked or I'm sure everyone's vaccinated or tested. While very large indoor gatherings are off the books, like concerts or performances, I still consider some indoor gatherings safe if I'm certain that everyone around me is either vaccinated, tested or is wearing masks. If I'm invited over for dinner to a vaccinated friend's house, I am still more comfortable spending time with them outdoors, but I'm not as concerned as I was in the past if it rains and we head indoors for a short spell. The same thinking applies to work and school. If you can avoid time indoors and can learn or work remotely, take advantage of the option. But if you must head into a building, do your best to ensure that everyone around you is masked, vaccinated, or is required to test regularly. Unfortunately, not everyone can control all these factors, but we should strive for it still.
Airports and Airplanes
When you think about travel by plane, you must consider your time in the airport as well. Both airports and airplanes involve being in close quarters with large groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. While most airlines require passengers and staff to be tested, there have been reports of people testing positive before their flights and still being allowed on planes. Even in countries with very strict testing and quarantine rules like Singapore, airports have been a source of new outbreaks. Until the global pandemic is under better control and vaccines are more widely available across the world, I would recommend sticking to safer forms of domestic travel whenever possible.
Bars, Nightclubs, Raves
…or anywhere else where people under the influence may let down their guard. While many of us have returned to dining at restaurants, I would caution against following a dinner out with a trip to your local bar or nightclub, even if those venues have COVID-19 policies in place. Bars were an early COVID-19 infection hotspot, no doubt tied in part to our general nature to let down our guards the more we drink or consume other intoxicants. These are venues where people are often speaking loudly, pulling their masks down regularly as they drink, and where people are generally more focused on having a good time rather than staying conscious of risk.
Restaurants, Museums or Any Other Non-Essential Venues
…in communities where infections are spreading rapidly. All the guidelines above apply in communities where the pandemic is not spiraling out of control. If, however, you are in a community where cases are soaring and hospitals are overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases, all of those rules should be thrown out the window. In these cases, even for those vaccinated, stay home. Venture to the grocery store or pharmacy if need be, but put a hold on all non-essential outings for the time being. There will be a moment when the usual routines will return, but that time will be significantly delayed if people don't take the necessary precautions during a COVID spike.
William A. Haseltine Ph.D. is a scientist, businessman, author and philanthropist. He was a professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health from 1976-1993 where he was Founder and Chair of two academic research departments, the Division of Biochemical Pharmacology and the Division of Human Retrovirology. He is well known for his pioneering work on cancer, HIV/AIDS and genomics and, today, for his work on COVID-19. He has authored more than 200 manuscripts in peer reviewed journals and more than a dozen books, including six books on SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic.