You’ve likely been warned ever since childhood that there are plenty of habits that could make you sick. And even if the idea of “cooties” seems quaint amid a global pandemic, letting your guard down among friends and family can sometimes cause you to slip up and make a risky decision, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. According to a new study, simply sharing dishes or cups with someone can triple your likelihood of catching COVID.
The case-control study, which was recently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, examined 211 coronavirus cases and 839 control subjects in Thailand. While the initial goal of the research was to find the early effectiveness of wearing a face mask and hand-washing in stopping the spread of the disease, the findings also showed that those who engaged in certain behaviors were more likely to test positive. Specifically, people who shared dishes or cups were 2.71 times more likely to contract COVID than those who kept their food and beverage to themselves.
The study’s authors also point out that transmission of the virus within households was relatively high compared to workplaces and other settings. They warned that when caring for an infected family member, “the sick person should stay in a specific room; use a separate bathroom, if possible; and not share dishes, cups, and other utensils.”
Thailand also issued a warning early in the pandemic to citizens about the dangers of sharing dishes and cups in a nightlife context. An announcement from the country’s health minister in March stated that a cluster of 13 cases had been traced to a group of friends who had been out sharing beverages and cigarettes, and warned the public against this kind of behavior. In the new CDC study, those who shared cigarettes were 6.12 times more likely to contract COVID.
Yet another study from Thailand released in July examined 11 coronavirus cases stemming from a going-away party where one glass of alcohol had been shared among the group. The research found that those who drank from the cup assumed that the alcohol would have a sanitizing effect, killing the virus. However, those people contracted COVID. Meanwhile, four other attendees at the party who did not drink from the infected glass avoided contracting the disease.
The idea of service industry workers even handling a cup that has been used has also led many businesses to temporarily switch to disposable options. This includes Starbucks, which banned the use of personal reusable mugs in March, saying that the safety of employees was a “greater priority” than environmental concerns amid the pandemic.
But while you should be worried about who else has had their hands on your cups, plates, and utensils, the CDC says that the likelihood of prepared food spreading COVID is still very low. And for more on how to avoid coronavirus, check out 50 Essential COVID Safety Tips the CDC Wants You to Know.