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MIT researchers say these are the unsafe businesses to avoid during COVID-19, and these are okay

MIT researchers say these are the unsafe businesses to avoid during COVID-19, and these are okay
[Photo: Anna Shvets/Pexels]

Want to know which businesses are safe to frequent during the coronavirus pandemic? Data crunchers at MIT analyzed 26 categories of businesses by a dozen metrics for necessity and crowdedness and determined which are most essential and safest, and vice versa. The insightful research aims to guide policymakers in choosing which commerce to reopen, and, as cases rise, which to close first or regulate.

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The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, identifies the businesses that have the best overall risk-benefit profiles when weighing important factors such as essential value to shoppers and the economy, as well as relative risk of contracting COVID-19—or as one researcher put it, which businesses give us the most bang for our buck. At the top of the pile are banks, which are economically important yet uncrowded and visited infrequently and for short periods of time.

Do it

(Probably worth the risk)

  • Banks
  • Dentists
  • Colleges and universities

Skip it

(Definitely not worth the risk)

  • Gyms
  • Cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors (3rd highest risk of 26 categories)
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Liquor and tobacco stores

Do it online if you can

(Higher risk but also sometimes perceived as essential)

  • Grocery, general merchandise, electronics, clothes, and shoe stores
  • Fast food and sit-down restaurants (highest risk of 26 categories)
  • Auto dealers and repair
  • Places of worship

Tough call

(Mid-level risk vs. benefits)

  • Salons and barbers
  • Hardware, furniture, office supply, and department stores

Skip it

(Low risk, but also nonessential or available online)

  • Bookstores (order local online!)
  • Amusement parks
  • Movie theaters (which, the researchers note, are often mostly empty off-peak times)
  • Office supply stores
  • Casinos
  • Museums

Current business restrictions do not follow these guidelines. For example, the researchers note that tobacco and liquor stores have experienced only 5% declines in attendance, yet are more risky (small, busy stores). Meanwhile, colleges are a good trade-off.

“They tend to be places with big campuses. When people are worried about colleges and universities, they’re mostly worried about dormitories and parties, people getting infected that way, and that’s fair enough. But [for] research and teaching, these are big spaces, with pretty modest groups of people that produce a lot of economic and social value,” said coauthor and economics postdoctoral student Seth Benzell, who is a career academic.

You can check out the full research here.

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