If there’s one question about coronavirus that we ask more than any other, it’s surely: “What is my risk?”
Not only “What’s my risk of catching the virus”, but, were that to happen, “What’s my risk of falling seriously ill? Of being taken to hospital? Of dying?”
Meet, Amy, Merlande and John: three people with very different levels of risk. By understanding more about what they should consider, as they seek answers to these questions, each of us can get a better idea of our own risk – and the risk we pose to others.
Amy, 21, student. HEALTH CONDITION: mild asthma, high risk of catching/spreading Covid, low risk of being seriously ill with it
Amy lives with five other students in her university accommodation in Cardiff and likes to meet up with friends to study and socialise. Her chance of catching Covid goes up the more she, and her housemates, mix with others, unless they can keep a safe distance. That’s because Covid is transmitted by close contact with someone who has the virus. A person can have no symptoms but still be able to spread it.
The virus is carried in spit droplets that are – often imperceptibly – propelled into the air we breathe when people talk or cough. And they can land on surfaces people touch, which is important for Amy who works in a bar some evenings, collecting dirty glasses. This is why we are told to wear face coverings in crowded places and regularly wash our hands to reduce the spread.
Not everyone Amy meets will have coronavirus. Close or risky contact means being within 1m of someone, or up to 2m for more than 15 minutes, according to NHS Test and Trace. Being in a poorly ventilated, enclosed, crowded space is far riskier than outdoors.
Amy’s risk of coming into contact with Covid will be higher if there is more of the virus circulating where she lives or visits.
Amy has asthma, but it’s well-controlled and doesn’t mean she would get very sick if she caught Covid. Most young people will have mild or no symptoms. But some young, fit people have become critically ill and died. Some who recover from even a mild bout develop longer term complications, known as long Covid.
Even those who may have had coronavirus already, won’t necessarily be immune. So there is a chance they could still catch it, spread it and get sick.
Tip: Check your local infection rate and Covid alert level (BBC News has postcode look-ups for cases in your area, and the rules where you live). The level in your area will dictate restrictions and what you are allowed to do. And remember:
- Duration – the longer you are close to someone who could be infectious, the higher the risk
- Environment – the risk is lower outdoors, or in a well ventilated area
- Direction – the risk is lower if you are not face-on with an infectious person