People. Place. Time. Space.

If you leave your house or interact with other people, there’s no such thing as ‘zero risk’ when it comes to COVID-19. But COVID risk isn’t all or nothing. When considering whether a specific activity is higher or lower risk for COVID-19 transmission, you should consider these four factors: a) people; b) place; c) time; and d) space.

People. Gathering with people outside of your household is riskier than limiting your contacts to the people you live with. And as more people gather together, the risk of COVID-19 transmission increases.

Place. Gathering indoors is riskier than gathering outdoors. The air indoors tends to be far more stagnant than the air outside. So the virus lingers in the air for longer indoors.

Time. The more time people spend together, the higher their risk of transmission. The CDC considers a person to be “exposed” to COVID-19 when they spend at least 15 minutes with an infected person. This is true whether people are wearing face masks or not.

Space. When people stand or sit closer together, the risk of COVID-19 transmission increases. Increasing the space between people reduces the risk of passing COVID-19 from one person to another. Six feet apart is better than three feet apart. Ten feet is even better.  

So next time you’re trying to decide whether something is safe to do, think about how to reduce the risk in terms of people, place, time, and space. And remember to cover your face!


Last update: August 3, 2020, 11:32 am ET

Science review: BK, JAB