What’s My Risk of COVID?

November 9, 2020 – As the coronavirus pandemic begins its ninth month and the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States approaches 10 million, it is in human nature to ask: what is this? ‘is? my risk of getting infected?

And the answer is far from simple.

“An individual’s chances are highly dependent on their location and risk factors, such as age and occupation, and the unpredictable course of the pandemic,” says Natalie E. Dean, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida in Gainesville. And the future course, she says, depends on whether new restrictions will be added or relaxed and other factors. “So this is a complex question.”

It’s a little easier to answer the question when it’s more specific, says Susan Holmes, PhD, professor of statistics at Stanford University. Look at the infection rates in your area to determine how risky it can be to go shopping or use public transportation.

“Right now, the risk of contracting COVID is different in Wisconsin and California, so each of those probabilities is a function of the prevalence of contagious people in your neighborhood, the places you visit and how you and the rest are protected with masks and ventilation., physical distancing. “

Use of risk calculators

A variety of calculators and other tools can help predict individual risk – or the degree of risk of the situation or event. Here is a sample.

Risk of contact with an infected person: Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University have worked together to develop a tool that estimates the likelihood that at least one person during an event of a given size in a specific location is contagious.

“We’re trying to communicate the risk of potential exposure,” says Joshua S. Weitz, PhD, distinguished professor of biological sciences at Patton at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Given the size of the event, the risk level is the estimated probability, from zero to 100%, that at least one person present is COVID-19-positive. The researchers speculated that there were generally 10 times as many cases as reported, although this could drop as much as five times in areas that have more tests.

For example, on November 5, the probability of at least one person being infected at a gathering of 50 people in Los Angeles was 69%; when this gathering was limited to 15 people, the risk was 29%.

Coming in contact with an infected person, says Weitz, “is only the first step in a chain of transmission.” Other things that affect your risk, of course, are whether the event is indoors or outdoors, and the level of protection like wearing masks and social distancing.

Risk of infection while traveling: Holmes of Stanford suggests turning to CDC information to assess specific risks of contracting COVID-19 while traveling.

For example, short car trips with members of your household only and no stops are the least risky; flights with stopovers are among the riskiest means of transport. Vacation rentals with only household members are less risky than bed and breakfasts. Dormitory-style hostels are most at risk.

Custom COVID risk tool: Experts from Brown University and Lifespan have developed a tool called My COVID Risk. It rates the risk when participating in daily activities, ranking the risk from low to high.

For example, going to an indoor gym near Los Angeles with 20 people present for an hour, all wearing masks, carries an average risk of infection. Reducing the time to half an hour, with five people, all masked, makes the activity low risk.

Taking a one hour walk outside in Boston with five people, all masked, is very low risk.

“There’s not just one answer,” Weitz says. “Think of risks across a spectrum.”

WebMD Health News


Susan Holmes, PhD, professor of statistics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Joshua S. Weitz, PhD, Patton Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

Natalie E. Dean, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, University of Florida, Gainesville.

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