Over a year of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic finds people around the world excited for events and gatherings to come. Widespread vaccinations and the warmer months offer hope that we can all spend time close together again. Yet the reopening of more public spaces doesn’t automatically mean these places are clean enough to protect from virus spread.
Even with CDC-approved cleaning and disinfecting practices in place, it’s important to stay cautious and safe as vaccine immunity is put to the test. Read on for a list of 11 reopened places that may never be clean enough to let our guards down in the near future.
11. Office Buildings
Take a moment to think about how many surfaces in an office could become contaminated with coronavirus. Desks, computer keyboards, staplers, writing utensils, notebooks, and the list goes on and on. If multiple people work in the same office space, the compromised air quality could be the bigger issue unless good ventilation is in use throughout the work day.
If business offices aren’t able to take care of the costs and manpower necessary for consistent daily cleanings with virus-killing disinfectants, workers and their surrounding communities are still at risk of infection spread.
10. Ridesharing Vehicles
If you think it will soon be completely safe to take an Uber or Lyft, that might not be the case. There’s no way to be certain that public ridesharing vehicles are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between each ride. Doing so costs the driver valuable time they could be earning money, and cleaning supply costs for each driver quickly add up.
There’s also the continued risk of spreading the virus through respiratory droplets between passengers and drivers in such a small, enclosed space. These droplets could quite literally be spread from person to person all over town.
9. Public Transportation
Buses, trains, planes and other means of mass transit are a huge challenge for public health. Thousands of people breathing, coughing and sneezing their way through public transportation every day makes it nearly impossible to prevent viral spread. Constantly taking time to wipe down high-traffic areas would mess with transit schedules.
These large means of public travel have always been a hotbed of bacteria and viruses, passing on colds, the flu and viral infections like COVID-19. It will probably always be difficult to keep public transportation clean enough to feel safe from catching a bug.
8. Public Playgrounds
Children find it harder to social distance than any of us, making playgrounds some of the most obvious places that might never be clean enough to prevent COVID-19 spread. As more public playgrounds reopen, it’s important to consider whether they’re worth the risk. Can you keep your children at least 6 feet apart from the other kids at all times? While wearing masks? Are you able to pre-clean and disinfect the playground equipment yourself? If not, avoiding these areas entirely until the coronavirus pandemic is long over is probably best.
7. Bars and Lounges
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that spending time in bars during a pandemic poses a significant threat to public health. This is because drinking requires mask removal, it’s difficult to socially distance from others, and because the “use of alcohol may alter judgment and make it more difficult for people to practice COVID-19 safety measures.” The CDC also reminds us that people tend to speak loudly in bars, to be heard above the music and crowds, which “can contribute to the production of more virus aerosols.”
Spending time in an indoor restaurant to eat requires removing your mask for the meal. Because everyone in a restaurant is also doing the same, restaurants are tough to keep disinfected well enough to prevent virus spread. For safer public dining, choose restaurants where outdoor seating is available and social distancing practices are in place.
Remember, even though vaccinations are happening at a rapid pace, COVID-19 and its variants are still rapidly spreading. Public dining still comes with substantial infection risk as indoor dining mandates are loosened across the country.
Gyms remain high on the list of places that might never be clean enough to avoid virus spread. Why? Because of all the extra respiratory droplets people release when exercising, typically in rooms with poor ventilation. If you use a gym, choose one that allows only a small amount of socially distanced people inside at a time. Bring your own disinfecting wipes and sprays for extra precaution, and wash your used workout clothes immediately.
Better yet, exercise from home as COVID vaccinations keep rolling out and wait for more infection immunity across the world to drastically increase first.
4. Public Libraries
Books in the library are handled by countless people. Though libraries are also taking precautions to prevent COVID spread, they might never be clean enough to be truly safe from catching viruses.
Some libraries aren’t allowing their books to leave the building in order to keep handling them at a bare minimum. That helps, but it only takes one person with the sniffles to contaminate the cover of a thriller novel or library computer keyboard. eBooks might be the only option for now, and can usually be accessed online from home, for library members.
3. Public Swimming Pools
In their myth busters section of COVID-19 information, the CDC’s website states that the coronavirus cannot be transmitted through water. They do, however, warn that the virus can still spread between people using public pools via respiratory droplets in the air. Many public pools have adopted strict cleaning practices during the pandemic, but keeping all areas virus-free isn’t easy. Keep that in mind as more pools are allowed to open in the warm months, before COVID herd immunity is achieved.
Large casinos offer hundreds, if not thousands, of gambling tables and machines. Most casinos are open 24 hours a day. Keeping that amount of high-traffic space and equipment safe from virus spread is a massive undertaking, as well as a huge extra expense. Casinos are also a place people love to enjoy drinks, snacks and meals, encouraging the removal of their protective face masks. It’s hard to believe that these places could ever be clean enough to feel completely safe from catching COVID-19 and other viruses.
The health risks of spending time in a church and other public places of worship will likely also remain high for a while. These enclosed spaces are rarely well-ventilated. Singing hymns, plus performances by a choir, can spread respiratory droplets at a quicker pace. It’s not the same experience as in-person gatherings, but church services attended through video calls might be the safest way to worship with others for now.
Continued caution and protective practices still makes good sense as more public gathering places reopen before the pandemic has ended.