What is your risk budget?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been going for over one year and pandemic fatigue is wearing on all of us. You may find yourself wondering whether you can see friends or family, or go to a restaurant. How do you decide whether to do some of your favorite activities?

A risk budget can help you make decisions.

Risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission is not all or nothing. Risk is cumulative and time-sensitive. A risk budget is a way to think about the amount of risk you are willing to take on a given day or in a given week. 

To start building your risk budget, first determine your personal risk with the following questions:

  • Are you at increased risk of complications if you catch COVID-19?
  • Do you live with someone who is at increased risk if they catch COVID-19?
  • Are you a front-line worker commonly exposed to many people? 
  • Do you risk infecting many others if you were to catch COVID-19?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any or all of these questions, your risk budget should probably be smaller than other people. By comparison, if you live alone, work remotely, and have no underlying conditions, your risk budget is bigger. People with a bigger risk budget can take more risks, since they are less likely to be infected, infect others, or suffer severe complications. 

Factors to include in your risk budget (People, Place, Time, Space!)

By now, we all know how important it is to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash our hands. But you might wonder, is it really that unsafe to host an outdoor barbecue, go to your friend’s wedding, or visit family

To answer these questions, you should think about your own personal risk budget and consider how risky the activity might be. Ask yourself these questions related to the people, place, time, and space of the activity:

  • Are the COVID-19 cases in your area increasing or decreasing?
  • Are they people in your household or pod?
  • Will people be masked?
  • How many people will there be? Are they vaccinated?
  • Is the activity indoors or outdoors?
  • How much space will there be between people?

From here, you can start determining the risk “cost” of the situation and whether you can “afford” it. To estimate the general risk cost of different factors, try out this risk budget tool

Your risk budget is time-dependent

If you went to a wedding this weekend, you probably spent your entire risk budget for the next two weeks. So it is smart to reduce your contacts and definitely avoid spending time with high risk people or other multi-household groups. On the other hand, if you’re mostly doing low-risk things like a weekly trip to the grocery store and seeing a friend or two outdoors, you can continue to do a few of these things each week and still keep your overall risk low.

Ultimately, a risk budget can help you find the right balance of doing the things you enjoy while taking the precautions to keep yourself safe. 

Last update: 26 Feb, 2021, 17:45 ET

Science review: SGB, ERS