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Last updated January 18, 2021. 8 minute read

Is it safe to do these activities during the COVID-19 pandemic?

First and foremost, COVID-19 activity varies depending on where you live, so be sure to check your city or state’s health department recommendations regarding local restrictions and check frequently—what was recommended two weeks ago may not be the case now.

Dr Chimene Richa Md Written by Chimene Richa, MD
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

The new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is a global pandemic affecting over 96 million people worldwide and more than 24 million people in the United States (as of Jan. 18, 2021) (ArcGis, 2020). Unlike many other viruses, most people with COVID-19 infections have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Because of this, it is easier to spread it to others as you may not even realize that you are infected. People in high-risk groups, like older people and people with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and lung disease, have an increased chance of developing severe disease. Frequent handwashing, practicing social distancing, and wearing face masks are all critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. 


  • Stay home whenever possible.
  • If you go out, wear a face mask or cloth face covering and maintain social distancing.
  • Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
  • Consider your health risks, as well as those of your family members, when deciding which activities are safe for you.

What is safe to do in this era of COVID-19?

First and foremost, COVID-19 activity varies depending on where you live, so be sure to check your city or state’s health department recommendations regarding local restrictions and check frequently—what was recommended two weeks ago may not be the case now. Remember that the best way to protect yourself is to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus. SARS-CoV-2 is spread person-to-person mostly by respiratory droplets, mainly when you cough, sneeze, and talk.

To protect yourself and others, wear a face mask anytime that you go out and keep six feet away from others who are not part of your household. Avoid large crowds or contact with anyone who is sick. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly, or use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your face or your face mask when you are out. If you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath), do not go out and avoid close contact with others.

Trying to navigate which activities are safe to do is tricky. It may depend on your health risks as well as those of your family members. What may be safe for one person may be too risky for someone else. Use common sense and try to avoid unnecessary exposures.

Visiting with family and friends

For some, this has been one of the hardest parts of the recent situation. You should still maintain social distancing of at least six feet and hold gatherings outdoors whenever possible. Keep get-togethers small to allow for social distancing and avoid hugging or kissing, shaking hands, etc.—stick to waving and verbal greetings. Clean your hands often, and encourage the other guests to do so, especially before eating. Another thing to avoid is a “buffet-style” meal—you do not want everyone at the get together handling the same food. Try to limit the number of people touching or serving food (CDC, 2020).

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Going outside

Spending time outdoors is generally safe; however, you should still keep six feet away from anyone who is not a member of your household and wear a mask whenever social distancing is difficult (like on crowded or narrow trails) (CDC, 2020). Staying physically active is essential for both your physical and mental well-being. Exercising outdoors, like walking, hiking, running, and biking, are all safe activities as long as you can practice social distancing.

If you are going to a beach or a pool, the same rules apply—wear a mask (when not in the water) and stay six feet away from people who are not in your household. Try to avoid going at peak times when these areas are very crowded, as it makes it harder to avoid close contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can be spread through water (CDC, 2020). However, we do know that it travels via droplets from an infected person’s mouth or nose, so the mask and social distancing are essential to staying safe. Avoid sharing things like toys, exercise equipment, food, etc. 

Eating out

If you miss going out to eat, you are not alone. However, before you head back to your favorite restaurant, check out their COVID-19 safety guidelines. All of the staff should be wearing face masks. Avoid salad bars or other types of self-service areas. Remember that the more close contact you have with others, and the longer the interaction, the more likely you are to contract the virus. The CDC has broken down the risk of COVID-19 spread in a restaurant or bar as the following (CDC, 2020):

  • Lowest Risk: Drive-thru service, delivery, takeout, and curbside pick up
  • More Risk: Outdoor seating on-site with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart 
  • Even More Risk: Indoor and outdoor seating on-site with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart
  • Highest Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating, but tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart

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Keep in mind that, in order to be able to keep the tables farther apart, a restaurant usually has to decrease its seating capacity—this means that wait times may be higher. If you have to wait for your table, be sure to wear your mask and stay six feet away from other patrons. Another thing to think about—especially if you are considering eating indoors—is the ventilation system. Ideally, keep windows and doors open, whenever feasible, to encourage circulation with outside air. A restaurant in China reported transmission of the COVID-19 virus from one table to the other because of the airflow from the air conditioning system (Lu, 2020). Whenever possible, avoid indoor dining, especially in a crowded restaurant or bar.

Attending religious services

The safest option is still to stay home and attend services virtually online. However, if you go in person, check to see the number of people that typically attend and what COVID-19 safety guidelines are in place. Opt for outdoor services whenever possible and try to go during less busy times. Be sure to wear a face mask and stay six feet away from people who are not in your household. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you leave.

Going to the gym

Exercising indoors at a gym poses more risk than walking or running outdoors. Some gyms are offering outdoor classes with limited spots to allow for social distancing. If you choose to workout indoors, check with your gym regarding the COVID-19 safety guidelines. There may be an online reservation or check-in option to limit the number of people in the gym at any one time.

Some gyms may close their locker rooms and changing areas, leaving only the restrooms open. Wear a mask if your activity allows you to, and avoid close contact with others. For example, don’t run or walk on a treadmill directly next to another one in use. Also, be sure to wipe down the equipment with disinfecting wipes and use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol before using machines.

Don’t use shared equipment like yoga mats, weight belts, or resistance bands that are not usually cleaned between uses. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you leave. If you are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms because of health issues, consider staying out of the gym for now.

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Going to the doctor or dentist

Doctors and dentist offices are taking preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19. For this reason, if you have health issues, you should not avoid seeing your healthcare provider. Many providers are using telemedicine whenever possible, so call the office to inquire about your options. If you are feeling sick or suspect that you have COVID-19 symptoms, call your provider before going in as they may have different protocols in place for symptomatic patients.

Going shopping

When available, online shopping or curbside pick-up are the safest options. If you go inside stores, wear a face mask and stay six feet away from others. Having a paper list can keep you organized and help you get in and out as quickly as possible to avoid too much time indoors. Many of the larger grocery stores have one-way signs in aisles to allow for social distancing—follow the guidelines of your local stores. Disinfect your cart and use hand sanitizer after leaving. Avoid going during peak times when the stores are more crowded. If possible, pay using touchless payment (pay without touching money, a card, or a keypad). However, if touchless payment is not an option, use hand sanitizer right after paying (CDC, 2020). When you get home, put your groceries away as usual and wash your hands afterward. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that food or food packaging is a major source of COVID-19 virus spread in the U.S. (CDC, 2020).

Going to a hair or nail salon

Before heading out, call and ask about their COVID-19 safety policies—ask if all of the staff are wearing face masks. Some salons are decreasing the number of appointment slots to prevent too many people in the salon at one time. If you need to wait in the lobby for your appointment, be sure to stay six feet away from others. Wear a face mask at all times and avoid touching your face. Use cashless payment options (credit card, debit card) whenever possible, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you leave.


If possible, postpone any non-urgent air travel for now. You should check with the health advisories and self-quarantine requirements of your destination before you fly out—some states require out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days. You can also check with your airline regarding their COVID-19 safety policies. You will need to wear a face mask during your travels. Remember that air travel carries several risks. Flights are limited, and crowding is possible.

You may be placed in close contact with strangers, sometimes for hours. You may also have to be in the airport for a prolonged time and have to wait in security lines and airport terminals. All of these situations can bring you in close contact with other people. The CDC states that most viruses do not spread easily on flights because of the airplane’s air circulation and filtration systems (CDC, 2020). However, traveling by air does increase your risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus as security procedures and seating arrangements can make social distancing impossible.

Public transportation

Using buses, trains, or subways, is riskier than driving in your car. If you choose to ride public transportation, try to go during off-peak hours when there are fewer people and less crowding. It is challenging to stay six feet away from others on a crowded bus or train. Be sure to wear a mask and wash your hands thoroughly (or use hand sanitizer) afterward.

Back to work

Going back to work is a tricky question. Some workplaces pose a significant risk of COVID-19 exposure to their employees, while others do not. Talk to your employer about any safety concerns. If you go back to work, you should maintain a six feet distance from other employees and wear a mask whenever you are interacting with others or are outside your private office (on the way to the restroom, kitchen area, copy machine, etc.). Wash your hands frequently and have hand sanitizer readily available. If commuting to your work increases your risk, ask your employer about work-from-home options.

In conclusion

You’ll notice some common themes with all of these activities: wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay 6 feet away from others. Until the vaccine is widely available or there is an effective treatment for COVID-19, the best way to stay healthy is to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus as much as possible.