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Does wearing short sleeves and shorts increase risk?

May 28: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer. 

Now that the weather is warming up considerably, is there any research on whether wearing shorts or short-sleeved shirts increases one’s risk of contracting COVID-19 if exposed? Are we safer in pants and long-sleeved shirts?

We can’t find any research specific to that question, but we already know enough about how the virus spreads to tell you that the amount of clothing you are wearing has no effect on your chances of contracting the virus. That’s because SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness, is a respiratory virus, and, like other respiratory viruses, it enters your body through your mucus membranes — your mouth, your nose, and (possibly) your eyes. 

Theoretically speaking, wearing short sleeves or shorts might mean that you end up with some viral particles on your skin that would otherwise end up on your clothing. But just getting the virus on your skin won’t make you sick; to become infected, you’d have to get that contaminated area of skin into contact with your mucus membranes, which, as long as you keep your knees away from your nose, is pretty unlikely. So, get outside and enjoy some of this beautiful weather. Dress for comfort, but if you’re not sure you’ll be able to maintain social distance at all times, make sure your ensemble includes a mask.

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