For months, the coronavirus pandemic has made many places that were once part of our everyday routine too dangerous to visit. But with most places now open across the country, it can be easy to forget that some venues are still a high risk for contracting the disease. Unfortunately, this is especially true of religious gatherings. In fact, one study recently found visiting places of worship can make you up to 16 times more likely to get COVID.
To discover this, researchers at Johns Hopkins School Medicine examined the behaviors of a random sample of more than 1,000 people in Maryland in late June. The results found that those who had been to a place of worship three or more times within the two weeks prior to the study had a far greater infection rate than those who did not—16 times, to be precise. That's almost four times the rate of those who had taken public transportation the same number of times in that time period (4.3 times).
The results of the study also reaffirmed that certain safety measures can help keep COVID at bay: Those who reported to "always" practice social distancing even while outdoors were only 10 percent as likely to become infected as those who reported that they "never" followed the safety guideline.
"Our findings support the idea that if you're going out, you should practice social distancing to the extent possible because it does seem strongly associated with a lower chance of getting infected," senior author Sunil Solomon, PhD, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School Medicine, said in a statement.
Since the early days of the COVID pandemic, places of worship have been cited as particularly risky environments for the spread of the novel coronavirus due to being indoors, crowded, and the common incorporation of singing. In some states, the earliest superspreader events were linked to religious gatherings, including a church choir practice in Washington state. It's been believed that singing poses such a risk in particular that the California Department of Public Health temporarily put a ban on singing and chanting in all places of worship this summer.
"Our churches have followed protocols—masks, go in one door and out the other, social distancing—and still people have tested positive," a bishop in Louisiana told The New York Times in July.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that gathering to worship is important to many, and recommends that anyone looking to congregate can do so more safely by moving services outdoors, wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing, and practicing diligent hand washing. And for more on what's still too risky, check out 24 Things You're Doing Every Day That Put You at COVID Risk.