What are your chances of being exposed to COVID-19 at an event? These tools can help you find out

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- As in-person events increase across the state, the risk for events varies greatly.

Researchers at UNC have been mapping event risk by ZIP Code for months. Current projections show in some areas of the state there is more than a 50% chance that at least one attendee has COVID-19 and is currently infectious at a 25-person event. The risk is five times less in some areas of the state, including a ZIP Code in the Triangle.

In the Triangle, two ZIP Codes in Cary (27519 and 27513) pose the smallest risk, according to UNC data.

Most areas of downtown Raleigh predict between a 20-25% chance that at least one attendee has COVID-19 and is currently infectious at a 25-person event.

In downtown Durham, the risk is slightly less with researchers predicting between a 13-16% chance at least one attendee has COVID-19 and is currently infectious at a 25-person event.

In Fayetteville, the risk ranges from 16% to 28% chance.

"The maps are not there to scare people," explained UNC professor Paul Delamater, "I'm trying to create a reflection of what's happening in the real world so that people can kind of just take this as another piece of information."

Delamater is one of the researchers who have tracked this risk throughout the pandemic. He said he wants people to be able to better use data to help inform their decision.

"I think if this model estimates, there's a 50% chance or a 25% chance that there's an infectious person there, you may use that and decide not to go or you may use that and decide you're going to wear a mask or something like that," he explained

TRY IT OUT: Explore the risk near you:

The data predicts an individual's risk for exposure to COVID-19, not transmission. This means whether the event is outdoors or how many people are vaccinated aren't considered. The analysis also makes the predictions based on residents for that ZIP Code and nearby areas, so if many people are attending the event from out of the county or state, the risk level could vary.

The Georgia Tech COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool has also offered a similar risk analysis for the entire U.S. since last fall.

Allie Sinclair and Morgan Taylor, are Ph.D. candidates at Duke University and are part of the team working on the Georgia Tech-based tool.

They said they hope individuals can use the mapping tool like a weather app. Check the risk they might face and then make the decision on how that will affect them.

"We can't control that external risk but we can control our own behavior," Sinclair said. "So if cases are low and we're vaccinated, maybe we're more willing to take some risks and live life. But if we see that cases are really high in our community, it could be a good time to take a step back and be a little more cautious."

Their tool shows as the number of attendees increases so does the risk. Once events reach 500 attendees, there is close to a 100% chance that one attendee will have COVID-19 throughout all of North Carolina.

"If you were attending one of those events, you should understand that it's a near certainty that at least one other person in that audience with you is going to be carrying the virus," Sinclair said. "You need to take into account, you know any precautions that you might be able to take, whether you are willing to live with the consequences if you did get infected."

Delamater also says he has concerns about larger events.

"In an event with 10, 20 and 30,000 people, especially without a vaccination requirement, you're likely to have multiple people, or maybe hundreds of people who are currently infectious at an event like that," he said.

Delamater has been tracking local COVID-19 metrics after UNC's home football game and said the effect has not been as stark as he expected.

"It looks like we haven't seen any massive uptick in cases, which is promising," Delamater said. "I don't think it's a good idea to be having these massive events without proof of vaccination or without masks."
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