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As Businesses Reopen, Here Are Some of the Highest-Risk Places for COVID-19

Health + Wellness
As Businesses Reopen, Here Are Some of the Highest-Risk Places for COVID-19
A woman rides the subway during rush hour on the first day of phase one reopening on June 8, 2020 in New York City. David Dee Delgado / Getty Images

By Christopher Curley

For millions of Americans who've been locked down for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the reopening in all 50 states might feel like a welcome relief.

But while many places may have flattened their curves, the pandemic is far from over.


Among other indicators, more than 20 states reported increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases during the first week of June.

Until a vaccine is found — which could take months or years — that means living with some degree of COVID-19 risk and taking steps to minimize that risk, both in the places you're least likely to contract the virus that causes the disease and where you're the most likely to get it.

"I like to think of it as the same principles that we apply to limit radiation exposure — time, distance, and shielding," said Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-paramedic, the executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness and a former senior public health advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services' Emergency Care Coordination Center.

"The less time we are in the same place with an infected individual, the better," Roszak told Healthline. "A quick trip to a grocery store is better than sitting through a 2-hour movie or working 8 hours inside a business. For distance, this is where our social distancing comes in. And just as we wear a lead vest to protect us from X-rays, we also can use shielding to protect us from the coronavirus. This is why you are seeing so many businesses install protective glass or plexiglass to provide shielding from the coronavirus."

With that in mind, here are some of the higher risk places you could go and how you might be able to limit your risk of infection from SARS-Cov-2.

Bars

Many of us miss socializing with friends over an evening drink, but experts say bars are among the worst place to be during a pandemic — in part because they're designed to encourage close quarters.

"The highest risk environments would be indoors with poor air/HVAC systems, with an inability to maintain 6-foot spacing accompanied by loud talking or yelling without everyone wearing a mask," Dr. Jeff Pothof, the chief quality officer at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, told Healthline. "The most common example would be a crowded bar with people having to speak loudly because of the noise and either unmasked or frequently removing the mask to eat or drink."

Wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing would help limit your risk here, but given the nature of a bar, that could be impractical.

Concert Halls, Churches, Theaters 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned against attending gatherings of 10 or more people as a particular risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Officials say that's because these gatherings offer more opportunities to come in contact with a person who has the virus. These gatherings also are less likely to have proper physical distancing.

Rock concerts and religious services are among this group.

If you do decide to go out, "Reduce your risk by being selective in your choice of venues," said Carol Winner, MPH, MSE, a public health expert and founder of the physical distancing brand give space.

"Try to research things like how many people will be allowed into the theater per showing? Is my church spreading attendees out by pews?" she told Healthline.

Community Pools and Beaches 

While the likelihood is low of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 through the water of a pool or ocean, the lack of physical distancing is a concern at community pools and beaches.

"Public beaches and community pools can go from quiet to bustling before you know it," said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.

"If you find that you are unable to wear your mask (because you are eating or drinking, for example) and you are also unable to maintain your distance from others (because of overcrowding) — it's time to go," she told Healthline.

Transportation 

Transportation, whether that's subways, buses, trains, or airplanes, is another venue where it's hard to maintain physical distancing.

You're also likely to have prolonged exposure to other people, making it especially high risk.

"In major urban centers, these transit systems are essential and because of this they are often overcrowded," Tony Abate, an expert on the airborne transmission of viruses and vice president and chief technical officer at AtmosAir Solutions, an air purification company in Fairfield, Connecticut. "This raises the probability of passing coronavirus aerial droplets from passenger to passenger by sneezing, coughing, or even talking."

Abate told Healthline that passengers should be wary of high-touch surfaces on transportation, including handrails, door pulls, and buttons.

Handwashing and avoiding touching your face are essential to minimize your risk in this circumstance.

Large Outdoor Gatherings

While the outdoors is generally safer than indoors thanks to nature's natural ventilation, big crowds such as those at a wedding or a large party still pose a serious risk.

"As more crowds gather, you will likely be in a position where you will have to ask others to take a step back and give you a safe space, as some people will not be wearing masks or social distancing properly," Winner said.

"Many people are not yet accustomed to navigating crowds while social distancing," she noted.

Many Workplaces 

Many workplaces, such as factories and call centers with crowded desks and poor ventilation, are particularly high risk.

And unlike some of the items on this list, it might be unavoidable if you have to work there.

This has been seen in real time as meatpacking plants have become some of the biggest COVID-19 hot spots nationwide.

"Social distancing must be monitored, and the business must allow employees to have a safe way to share any concerns of improper health behavior among their colleagues," said Winner.

In addition, she said businesses should provide training on the proper way to wear masks as well as remove gloves and any other personal protective equipment (PPE) required of the position.

Psychological services should be available if employees needs them, she noted.

"Compensation for COVID-19 workers should also be in place to support at a minimum, paid sick leave and if possible, bonus pay," Winner said.

Hair and Nail Salons

Hair salons have become a lightning rod for people who want businesses to reopen, but they might be one of the highest risk places you can venture.

"If you choose to go out, consider that you may be more likely to catch COVID-19 at certain places that don't follow social distancing guidelines or have high touchpoint surfaces," said Dr. Dora Savani, an epidemiologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. "These places include hair and nail salons."

That doesn't mean there aren't relatively safe ways to get a cut or style.

"I would advise picking places to visit based on individual environmental set up vs. type of establishment. I would wear a mask and only frequent establishments that have mask policies," said Dr. Alexander Benson, a critical care physician at Centura Health in Colorado who leads that facility's COVID-19 operation team. "If you have a particular place you're wanting to return to, ask them about the HVAC and cleaning policies."

At Sweet Olive Salon in New Orleans, the owner and staff say they are following all recommended guidelines from the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology.

This includes requiring protective masks for clients and employees as well as requiring that customers come in with their hair prewashed and shampooed.

The salon also sanitizes all tools and stations between clients and limits the number of people in the store.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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