Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How to Reduce Your Personal Risk of Getting COVID-19

Daily choices you can make to help keep yourself and others safe and healthy.

The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, with no clear end in sight. There is some eventual promise of safe and effective vaccines, but the timetable for their distribution is not yet known. Therefore, we face at least several more months of this pandemic.

One thing is certain. At this moment, we cannot completely stop or control the spread of COVID-19, due to several reasons.

Many people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic unknowingly transmit the virus to others. Also, we have chosen to re-open most of society which increases the overall risk of transmitting and contracting the virus. Finally, we have no modern precedent for how to effectively manage a worldwide public health crisis of this magnitude.

So the reality is that we each continue to face some level of risk for contracting COVID-19, and a much smaller risk of becoming very ill or even dying. We know that these more severe risks are primarily related to increased age and having chronic pre-existing health conditions.

Each of us has little control over decisions made by public health officials, governments, and businesses as they attempt to curb the virus through various mitigation strategies. In truth, many of the choices being made may actually increase our risk of exposure, as businesses, educational institutions, and sporting events continue to reopen.

Source: focalpoint/CanStockPhoto

However, we do retain control to a considerable degree over our own personal choices and behaviors. What we choose to do or not do each day can directly increase or decrease our personal risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Let’s look at this more closely. Below are examples of lower risk versus higher risk personal choices and behaviors. Please take a moment to consider each of these and where you currently stand for each option.

Choices Which Can Lower Risk

  • Wearing a mask at all times in public
  • Mask fully covering mouth and nose
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Following quarantine protocols if exposed
  • Getting carry-out food or dining outdoors
  • Keeping more than 6 feet from others
  • Not using public transportation
  • Not touching surfaces in public spaces
  • Children not attending daycare or school
  • Not gathering in large groups
  • Not attending indoor events

Choices Which Can Increase Risk

  • Not consistently wearing a mask in public
  • Mask not fully covering mouth and nose
  • Not consistently washing hands
  • Ignoring quarantine protocols if exposed
  • Going to indoor restaurants
  • Being closer than 6 feet from others
  • Using public transportation
  • Touching surfaces in public spaces
  • Children attending daycare or school
  • Gathering in large groups
  • Attending indoor events

Each of these comparisons represents a choice. You may likely find you are engaging in both lower and higher risk behaviors, depending on the day and your own individual situation.

It can also be helpful to take a look at some of your beliefs and assumptions that may also decrease or increase your risk for exposure. For example, you may assume that your “close friends” are safe to be around because you trust them. However, unless you fully know they are taking all the appropriate steps to reduce their own exposure, you can’t accurately assess the level of risk they may present to you.

It’s important to remember that the choices we make can not only reduce our personal risk of exposure to the virus, but they can also help lower the risk to our friends, families, and others.

Also reflect on your current needs, as well as those of your family, neighbors, and your community. If COVID cases are escalating in your area or if you or someone you are caring for are in a higher risk category, please consider planfully and consistently adopting more lower-risk behaviors. This might include limiting nonessential interactions with others or getting carryout food instead of dining inside a restaurant.

It’s also important for us to stay vigilant about these important choices. We are all tired and just want the world to go back to normal. But there is still a long road ahead to reach that goal.

Keep in mind the important reasons for continuing to reduce both your own risk and that of others. By making sound, careful choices, we can keep more people safe and healthy as we await vaccines that promise to significantly curtail the pandemic once and for all.

Copyright David Susman 2020