What are the riskiest activities to partake in during COVID-19?

woman standing on a treadmill at gym, one of the riskiest activities one can do during the COVID pandemic
Photo via Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The world has slowly become accustomed to pandemic life over the last eleven months. We’ve had to sacrifice numerous activities known to be dangerous, like traveling between states and attending crowded events. The list of dangerous activities in the era of COVID is long and can be confusing, as expert opinions often vary. Not everyone agrees on what the riskiest activities are during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here’s a refresher on what to avoid.

Depending on how frequently you wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your hands, a seemingly dangerous activity may not present many risks. Any location or activity can be made safer by carefully following the CDC’s recommended guidelines, which include keeping to small groups, maintaining at least a six-foot distance at all times, staying outside wherever possible, and ensuring constant mask usage.

There are some locations and activities that are higher risk no matter what precautions you take, however, and should be avoided wherever possible. At least until the pandemic is over.

Bars and nightclubs

Across the board, bars and nightclubs are some of the riskiest places to visit during the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned several times about visiting bars, particularly after numerous outbreaks were linked back to gatherings at bars and nightclubs. 

Nursing homes

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 spread through nursing homes like wildfire. Given that elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions are at higher risk of serious illness or death resulting from a COVID-19 infection, it became an immediate priority to slow the spread among this community. The number of infections among nursing home residents has dropped significantly, but nursing homes are still a high-risk location. Dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of individuals live in close proximity to nursing homes. It is the perfect recipe for the rapid spread of the virus.

Movie theaters

Visiting a movie theater is not the riskiest activity you can indulge in during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they present a clear danger. If the theater is mostly empty, you keep a mask on the entire time, and you can socially distance while in the lobby, a movie theater may be a reasonably safe location. Unless you can know your local theater’s disinfection practices or how crowded the theater will be ahead of time, however, it is probably safest to just avoid this activity entirely.


Churches have been a hotbed of coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic. Despite the numerous superspreader events linked back to religious congregations, many churches have continued to host large gatherings and services. 


With the right precautions, it can be reasonably safe to visit a restaurant during the pandemic. If you can’t eat outdoors, however, ordering in is a far safer bet. The virus spreads rapidly indoors, and since eating requires you to remove your mask, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is particularly high in restaurants.


Numerous viral outbreaks have been linked back to gyms. Fauci has recommended against returning to gyms numerous times, as they are one of many locations that can be difficult to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most all activities at the gym require high physical effort, which makes it difficult—if not impossible—to maintain mask use. Respiratory droplets also spread farther in gyms, as people breathe heavily during their workout.

Airports and airplanes

Experts advise against traveling between cities and states in any form, but doing so on an airplane presents a particularly high risk. To be fair, airplanes themselves are actually relatively low risk, but airports are far more dangerous. As with many of the other entries on this list, airports allow for large groups of people to congregate, massively increasing the risk that COVID-19 will spread. 

Jails and prisons

A huge number of COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked back to jails and prisons. It’s little wonder why, as prisoners are kept in close quarters with little provided protection. Efforts to make jails and prisons safer have been only marginally effective. Despite this, the question of when prisoners can receive a COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be answered.

Any large gathering

This likely goes without saying, but it bears reminding: Any large gathering is likely to pose a massive risk. Whether at a concert hall, community pool, beach, museum, or wedding venue, any activity with a large crowd during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be extremely risky. Avoid going anywhere that you expect more than a dozen or so people to gather for a lengthy amount of time. We’ll get our social lives back eventually, but you might save lives by postponing your plans in the short term.

Is it safe:

Sources: CDC, Healthline, Eat This, Hartford Healthcare, SF Safe, NPR

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