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Health experts rank bars and jails as the riskiest places for COVID-19 transmission. Getty Images
  • In a new survey, epidemiologists ranked bars and jails as the riskiest places for COVID-19 transmission.
  • Among the reasons health experts say bars are a high-risk environment is because of the number of people who interact in a closed space over a long period of time.
  • People must also repeatedly remove their masks to drink while in a bar, which also increases the risk of transmission.
  • Health experts suggest people consider meeting friends at a park or in their backyard rather than at a bar.

Bars are tied with jails as the riskiest place to contract the new coronavirus, according to a survey of epidemiologists conducted by the nonprofit journalism center CivicMeter.

Twenty-seven epidemiologists from a number of universities participated in the questionnaire, ranking incarceration and group inebriation highest for exposing people to the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“Bars remain a very risky activity. Essentially, bars violate all five of the pieces of the mnemonic time, space, people, place, and don’t forget face,” Dr. William C. Miller, professor of the division of epidemiology at The Ohio State University, told Healthline.

Miller elaborated on each of these factor that contribute to increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in bars:

Time: Because people go to bars to socialize and drink, they tend to spend more than 15 minutes there, so time is violated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Space: In bars, people tend to crowd together to talk, making it difficult to abide by the CDC’s recommendation of keeping 6 feet apart.

People: Interacting with more people raises your risk, and it’s likely you’ll meet people at bars who aren’t in your immediate family or circle of friends, so you’re exposing yourself to new people who may not have been as careful as you have.

Also, the CDC warns that some people who have the virus may not have any symptoms, and it’s still unclear whether asymptomatic people can spread the virus.

Place: Being inside a bar increases transmission. According to the CDC, indoor spaces are riskier than outdoor, and keeping distance from other people is especially important for older people and those at higher risk for severe illness.

Face: Many people go to bars to drink, and you can’t drink with a mask on, so the likelihood of taking the mask on and off increases. Also, being around people who don’t wear masks or don’t wear them properly can increase your risk.

With all this said, Jason Tetro, microbiologist and host of “Super Awesome Science Show,” says a bar is possibly the worst place to go when there’s a respiratory virus circulating.

“The reason has to do with the lack of proper controls over human movement and interaction, which is the reason for going to a bar in the first place. You want to get away from normal life, become uninhibited, and maybe even interact with people who are not in your usual cohort. Sadly, when there’s a virus in that environment, all of those factors simply improve the likelihood for spread,” Tetro told Healthline.

The CDC states that the risk of an activity depends on many factors, such as:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading in your community?
  • Will you have a potential close contact with someone who’s sick or anyone who’s not wearing a mask (and may be asymptomatic)?
  • Are you at increased risk for severe illness?
  • Do you take everyday actions to protect yourself from COVID-19?

When it comes to going out anywhere, Miller says to pay attention to what’s going on locally. If cases in your area are on the rise, he says stay home. If cases are low and stable, consider socializing responsibly.

However, he recommends staying away from bars altogether.

“I mean really, just don’t go right now. If you must go, try to go somewhere where you can be served outside. And if you absolutely have to be inside, try to find a place that is airy and well ventilated. But really, just don’t go,” Miller said.

Instead, he suggests having a small get-together in a park or at the beach, or at someone’s backyard or rooftop.

“Limit the number of people. Bring along the beverages. Sit and chat with appropriate distance,” Miller said.

Tetro says sitting outside at restaurants is a better alternative to bars because restaurants have more control over COVID-19 spread than bars do.

“You can have fun with your cohort in a special bubble designed for you so you can have fun and not worry about having to wear a mask (unless you want to check out the dessert display),” he said.

The epidemiologists who answered the CivicMeter survey ranked outdoor gatherings and outdoor restaurant seating as the safest venues.

Still, before going anywhere, inside or out, Tetro says to consider what he calls the “ABCs of COVID-19 prevention”:

  • A is for airway, which you should protect with a mask or some other face covering that provides a barrier. “No single-layer bandanas, but masks with LEDs or other rave-friendly technology is perfectly OK,” Tetro said.
  • B is for bubble, which refers to physical distancing and/or ventilated space you need to maintain for yourself and your cohort.
  • C is for cohort, meaning if you stick to your social bubble and you all abide by A and B, you can safely have fun together.

“It’s been a long haul so far, but we’re still far from done. It’s going to be another year before we are close to being in the clear. But thanks to the ABCs, we can find ways to get out and have fun with friends and family. Although it may not be as wild as it has been in the past, we can still enjoy our lives while we fight against the pandemic,” Tetro said.

In addition to bars, epidemiologists also ranked nursing homes, churches, and indoor restaurants as high risk.

As far as travel, the experts gave mixed responses, with 13 out of 27 stating they wouldn’t travel at all.

While some indicated they would be comfortable traveling to states like Maine or Idaho, many said they would avoid the following states:

  • Florida (18 votes)
  • Texas (16 votes)
  • Arizona (12 votes)

When it came to trustworthiness of COVID-19 data produced by various countries, including the United States, most epidemiologists agreed that South Korea and Germany were producing the most trustworthy data.

Russia, Iran, and Brazil were ranked as providing the least reliable sources of COVID-19 information, including the most distorted national disease numbers.

In a new survey, epidemiologists ranked bars and jails as the riskiest places for COVID-19 transmission.

Among the reasons health experts say bars are a high-risk environment is because of the number of people who interact in a closed space over a long period of time.

People must also repeatedly remove their masks to drink while in a bar, which also increases the risk of transmission.

Health experts suggest people consider meeting friends at a park or in their backyard rather than at a bar.


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