Updated May 19, 2021
If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, then you’re probably itching to return to the gym, take in a baseball game, hear a concert, or plan a backyard barbeque--especially since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that you no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, excluding public transportation, and unless federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, local businesses or workplaces indicate otherwise. In keeping with this new CDC guidance, New York is lifting most pandemic-related capacity restrictions and waving mask mandates outdoors for fully vaccinated people, except in certain crowded settings and venues.
Yet, it’s still a good idea to be cautious, says Matthew S. Simon, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Assistant Attending Physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Once you’re fully vaccinated, CDC guidance says we can loosen some restrictions, but we’re still in a vulnerable time with a minority of people who are fully vaccinated and very high case counts,” he says. “Although the vaccines are likely to remain protective against variants, we don’t have a full understanding of any differences in the vaccine’s effectiveness between newer variants and older strains of the virus. Things will get better but we’re not quite there yet.”
Given the latest capacity increases for indoor and outdoor venues, including indoor dining, entertainment venues, salons and other personal care businesses, as well as returning round-the-clock subway service, understanding what it means to be protected against COVID-19 and how to stay safe remains critical for your health and the health of those around you.
For example, it’s important to understand that being partially vaccinated is not the same as being fully vaccinated, Dr. Simon says. “People can’t run out a week after they’ve gotten their shot and think they have full protection,” he says. Being fully vaccinated is defined as “at least two weeks after a second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer shot, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson.”
Even once you are fully vaccinated, there are several factors to consider before you start participating in activities and relaxing health precautions:
If community rates are still very high--as they are in New York--then keep in mind that there is some risk involved in eating inside a restaurant or going to a bar. “Because COVID rates remain high, the majority of people are not yet fully vaccinated, and the vaccines are not 100% protective, crowded indoor settings still pose a risk of transmission even for those who are fully vaccinated,” Dr. Simon says.
The CDC recommends avoiding medium and large events. If you are fully vaccinated, then you can visit with a small group of other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or physically distancing. You can also visit indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
“Because of the ventilation, outdoor activities are generally safer than indoor activities. This is especially true for eating at restaurants where you won’t be able to wear your mask while eating and drinking” Dr. Simon says. In fact, one study found that adults with positive COVID-19 test results were twice as likely as those with negative results to have reported eating at a restaurant. CDC offers the following suggestions to minimize risk when visiting restaurants:
“It’s important to get some physical exercise during the pandemic, however it is still necessary to take precautions when visiting an indoor gym.” Considerations to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID at gyms include: mask use, physical distancing, limiting high-intensity group activities, evaluating the gym’s ventilation practices, hand hygiene, and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces.
Consider if the activity will put you in close contact with other people not in your household. Assess how you can maintain a safe distance from others and if people around you will be masked. “When you’re out in public, it’s still important to wear a mask, even if you’re fully vaccinated,” Dr. Simon says. “It’s important not just for you but for the community at large.”