Is There a Way to Calculate Your COVID Risk?

With cases continuing to rise due to the contagious omicron variant, you might wonder which activities you can safely do and what the COVID-19 risk is like in your area. To help with decision-making, organizations have created online risk assessment tools that pull information from the web and use your personal details. By using these calculators, you can estimate the individual risk of getting exposed to COVID during a certain activity. However, you'll want to use a COVID risk calculator wisely and seek the advice of health care professionals too.

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Consider also​: Winter Travel Update: US & COVID

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How COVID-19 Risk Calculators Work

When looking at a COVID-19 risk calculator, you'll find that the tool will consider various factors in ranking an activity's risk rating. Some simply provide a categorical ranking from low risk to high risk for exposure, while others assign a numerical rating from ​0 to 100​.

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Since COVID spread varies by area, calculators usually use data on cases in your zip code and possibly the level of community immunity or vaccination too. Whether a particular event or activity occurs indoors or outdoors and how many people are involved also contribute to the risk score. Generally, these calculators rank activities as riskier when they involve large crowds, occur in areas with high transmission levels and/or involve poor air circulation.

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Other personal risk calculators go more into depth with specifics about your health status and behaviors. For example, these may ask for your age, gender, vaccination status, underlying conditions, fitness level, household size and types of activities you participate in often. Such calculators look at whether you have characteristics such as being older, exposing yourself more often to risk or having health conditions that make you more susceptible to severe infection.

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Using COVID Risk Calculators

You'll find many COVID risk calculators from public health organizations, universities and research agencies. Here are some popular ones with their criteria and any limitations to know:

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  • National Institute on Ageing Risk Score​: Based in Canada, this detailed calculator doesn't provide a community-based risk level but instead shows the risk of infection in your country. It takes into account your health and vaccination status as well as information about the gathering size and the behaviors and health statuses of others attending. It also asks about the COVID precautions you take such as practicing handwashing and mask-wearing. While you'll get a low to high risk estimate, keep in mind the limitation of this tool not using local information.

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  • Georgia Tech COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool​: This calculator lets you quickly see the risk of participating in an event using both local case data and the size of the event. You can zoom in on your county to see both the risk level and full vaccination level there. Drawbacks include not being able to see the risk for a specific activity like going to a concert or the grocery store and not being able to enter personal information about your health.

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  • National Institutes of Health SAFER-COVID​: This calculator stands out for letting you easily see the specific risk of COVID-19 exposure for a certain activity such as shopping, dining or travel. You can also enter your zip code to see statistics about the daily cases, infection rate and vaccination rate there as well as fill out a brief health survey to get a personal risk assessment. These options allow you to see your COVID-19 risk level from different sides.

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  • 19 and Me from Mathematica​: If you're looking for a calculator with a very detailed methodology, this one combines geographic data with various personal factors for an overall risk assessment. It uses information such as your zip code, age, gender, health and fitness statuses, vaccination status (including which maker such as Pfizer or Moderna), activity participation and potential exposure from those in your household. Not only does it provide a risk level up to 100, but it also shares information on how effective your vaccine is and how certain actions reduce your chances of infection.

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Limitations of COVID Risk Estimates

When using COVID risk calculators, keep in mind that the algorithm used for each can vary and that some tools might not consider important details such as your specific medical condition. Further, due to coronavirus testing shortages and the possibility of unreported cases, the local case data used may not fully represent the extent of COVID infection in your area. Also, keep in mind that even an activity with a low risk level could still lead to infection.

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Due to these limitations, you'll want to seek medical advice from clinicians who can help you make personal health decisions during the pandemic. You should also follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that recommend getting the initial vaccine series or a booster shot, practicing social distancing, using a suitable face mask and avoiding places with large crowds when possible.

Consider also​: Fully Vaccinated? The CDC Says You Can Travel Again

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