After you get the COVID-19 vaccine, is it safe to return to the way things were? Can you visit family and friends you haven’t seen in months? Should you go to a concert or baseball game? The answers, of course, are a little more nuanced than just “yes” or “no.”
Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released long-awaited guidance for people who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. While getting vaccinated opens up a world of possibilities—at least compared to those still waiting for their shot—the new rules are probably not as permissive and life-changing as some would hope. When it comes down to it, you will still have to use your best judgment.
How to know if I’ve been fully vaccinated
The CDC considers you fully vaccinated if:
- It’s been two weeks after your second dose of a vaccine that requires two doses (like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines), or
- It’s been two weeks since you received a single-dose vaccine (like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine).
If it has been less than two weeks since your shot, or if you still need to get your second dose, the CDC does not consider you protected fully from the Coronavirus, and you need to continue following all prevention steps until you are fully vaccinated.
Visiting family and friends
The new guidelines say you can get together indoors with other people who have also been fully vaccinated without wearing a mask.
You can also expand your “pandemic pod” by gathering indoors with one other household where people have not been vaccinated, without wearing masks.
This means, yes, you can finally (and safely) visit family members, whether they have been vaccinated or not. But, before you rush over and fire up the grill, the CDC says you should take extra precautions around people who have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Attending Big Indoor Events
Even if you have received the shot, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask and staying at least six feet apart from others. The guidance also says you should avoid medium-to-large-sized crowds and poorly ventilated places whenever possible.
If they are bringing back indoor concerts and events, many venues have already taken this into consideration. For example, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera are returning to live, in-person performances on March 25, 2021. They’re spacing out the audience and requiring them to wear masks.
Attending outdoor events
The CDC guidelines get a little fuzzy on the safety of outdoor gatherings and events. It acknowledges that outdoor events are safer than indoor, thanks to the better air circulation and ability to keep socially distant, but they’re still not as safe as, say, watching the game from your couch.
So, if you’re looking forward to summer sporting events, whether you have the vaccine or not, the CDC recommends you wear a mask, remain six feet apart and avoid yelling, chanting or singing—which can help the virus spread.
The Salt Lake Bees baseball team recently released its schedule for the 2021 season. As of the publication of this article, the season opens Thursday, May 6 against the Reno Aces at Smith’s Ballpark. It’s still not entirely clear what precautionary measures the ballpark will put in place. According to the Bees’ website, “the Bees are currently working with local and state health department officials on a plan for fan attendance at the ballpark. More information on attendance and ticket sales will be announced at a later date.”
What about travel?
Many of us had to cancel travel plans in 2020, and, if you’ve got your vaccine, you’re likely tempted to resurrect those plans.
The CDC did not update its pandemic travel recommendations with this latest round of new guidance, saying you should still avoid domestic and international air travel if at all possible.
Do I still have to quarantine?
There’s also no need to quarantine, or be tested for COVID-19 if someone exposes you to the virus, unless you have symptoms. The CDC says there’s also no need to isolate unless you develop symptoms—at which point, give your doctor a call.
Now, if you live with someone who contracts COVID, the CDC guidance remains the same. You should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even if you do not have symptoms.
Why so much caution?
You might be wondering why the CDC recommendations align so closely to what they’ve already been telling us to do. Frankly, it’s because there’s still a lot we don’t know about spreading the virus, even after getting the vaccine.
The CDC says it knows that the vaccines are effective at preventing the disease, especially severe cases. But now, there’s a whole crop of variant strains of the virus that weren’t around when some of the major vaccines underwent testing. There’s still a lot to learn about how effective the vaccines are against those variants.
We’re also still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from spreading the disease. Even if you’re much less likely to get it yourself after getting the vaccine, you might still spread it to others, even if you don’t show symptoms.
All of these guidelines are subject to change as we learn more about COVID. Utah already has an eye on lifting some state pandemic restrictions. In the final hours of the legislative session, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that would end the statewide mask mandate by April 10, 2021. The bill would loosen other restrictions as well, once the state hits certain benchmarks, including, 1.63 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a 14-day case rate less than 191 per 100,000 and a seven-day average ICU hospitalization rate lower than 15%.
If you’re anxious to open up your opportunities to see family and friends again, check out whether you’re eligible to receive the vaccine.
While you’re here, check out our latest print issue of Salt Lake magazine and the other stories in our Arts & Entertainment section.