As the world moves into the second summer with the threat of the novel coronavirus still present, people are beginning to get their vaccines and are ditching masks for long-awaited summer vacations and activities. Obviously everyone wants the world to get back to “normal,” but it’s important to keep safety protocols in mind as you try to make this summer a time of fun and adventure rather than isolation. And, yes, getting back to that normalcy may require keeping your mask on.
I spoke with a couple of medical experts who have spent the last year helping create COVID-19 tests and have decades of experience between them to create a list of things you can do to make the most of summer 2021, while we’re living in a post-pandemic limbo. So, if you’re tired of staying indoors and are ready to venture out into the world again, here are four ways you can stay safe from COVID this summer (with a few fun vacation ideas thrown in there, too).
- Get vaccinated as soon as you can
Getting vaccinated is the most obvious way to start making the most of life again with COVID-19 still around, and it’s also one of the most recommended (both by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and most medical professionals). The CDC even has a page on their website dedicated to helping you find vaccination providers.
“The best way to minimize risk of COVID-19 infection, short of staying home and away from others, is to get vaccinated”, says Dr. Jeffrey Dlott, medical director for the Quest Diagnostics consumer-initiated testing service QuestDirect.
Many people have been getting their vaccines and experience minimal side effects. I received my COVID vaccine back in March and, though I did feel terrible for the 24 hours after, I’ve been fine ever since.
However, getting vaccinated isn’t a catch-all when there are still people who don’t have access to the vaccine, aren’t old enough to get it, or are recommended to not get it. At the end of the day, you need to follow all the CDC’s guidelines as well as local rules — if a business asks you to wear a mask, please just wear the mask.
Dr. Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and infectious disease expert at Abbott Laboratories, says, “Even with many people vaccinated, participating in summer activities without following the CDC’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 can potentially cause an increase in COVID-19 cases.”
Whether or not you’re vaccinated doesn’t determine whether or not you can carry the virus. As a fully vaccinated individual, I encourage you to use caution and follow local and federal guidelines regarding COVID. Keep those people who haven’t been, or can’t be, vaccinated in mind.
- Mask up and use your best judgement — no matter where you’re going
Some of you may have already heard, but if you’re vaccinated the CDC says you no longer have to wear a mask (although they do say you still need to listen to local and state regulations). Since the COVID-19 vaccines have been successful so far, it’s safer for vaccinated individuals to begin living life as they did before the pandemic began.
Even if you are vaccinated, though, you may want to consider keeping a mask on your face when you’re in public places and are around groups of people. Still, some people haven’t been able to get vaccinated yet and smaller children are currently unable to get the vaccine. Being vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t spread COVID-19 to other people.
“If you’ve been vaccinated, you are safer than those unvaccinated because your risks of death and developing severe symptoms are eliminated,” Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy, a primary care doctor for Doctor Spring, says. “However, you can still be a carrier of the virus even if you are not infected and even if you are vaccinated.”
As someone who is fully vaccinated, I would recommend continuing to wear your mask when you’re going to places that may be crowded. This could include clothing stores, grocery stores, or even outdoor events where there are a lot of people you don’t know and/or where social distancing isn’t possible. Other people may not be vaccinated or be following the recommendations like you might’ve been.
It’s important to note that the CDC’s announcement regarding masks also states that you still need to follow local and federal regulations. Specifically, their website says, “You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
- Plan socially distant vacations and trips
The last thing anyone wants to do is have a boring summer with nothing to do. That’s why it’s important to be purposeful when planning your trips. Think of things you can do that will allow you to be socially distant from other people that you don’t know. If you want to go on a beach vacation, think about times of the summer that are less busy than others.
“While any form of travel still carries risks,” Dr. Dlott says. “There are safer activities to consider.” He goes on to explain that road trips and other activities that allow you to maintain social distancing (such as biking or traveling by car) are going to be safer options. “If you are planning on traveling out of state,” he adds. “Make sure to review the most updated travel restrictions.”
I would avoid traveling out of the country unless you absolutely have to as vaccine distribution isn’t at the same level everywhere and COVID-19 is still an even bigger risk in a lot of different countries.
One of my dream vacations (and one that would be totally doable in this almost-post-COVID-world) is to go on a cross-country road trip. Social distancing? Check. Ability to monitor which stores and restaurants I go into while avoiding those that may be a risk? Check. Ability to customize the trip to my liking? Check. Other than all the gas money, there’s really no cons to going on a road trip this summer. You can still see beaches, mountains, and do all the fun summer things.
A few other options for a safer (but still fun) summer include going camping, kayaking, boating — basically any activity that gives you minimal interaction with other people.
If you can’t find a way to plan a socially distant vacation (or you aren’t a huge fan of outdoor activities), consider keeping an eye on crowd levels for wherever you’re going. Try to find days and times certain locations aren’t as busy. Maybe a zoo or an aquarium in the early morning will be less crowded than if you were to go in the afternoon. You may find that the beach is a little less crowded if you go early on as well, rather than going in the middle of the day.
And, if you need a little guidance on which activities are safest for you and your friends, the CDC has a page all about choosing safer activities.
- Think about getting tested for COVID before and after your trips and activities
Regardless of if you decide to get vaccinated or not, wear a mask, distance yourself from others, or none of the above (although I recommend doing all three). Remember that COVID-19 testing isn’t as hard to find as it was a year ago. You can get tested before your vacation, after your vacation, or whenever you feel like you may have been exposed by someone you’ve been around.
“Individuals can safely participate in summer activities by following CDC guidelines and taking proper precautions,” Dr. Rodgers says. “Including mask-wearing, social distancing, and testing with rapid tests like that BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test by Abbott.”
Dr. Dlott also recommends getting tested since it’s the only way to know if you’re asymptomatic and COVID-positive.
“Another critical step is testing,” Dr. Dlott says. “This is because some people lack symptoms but can still transmit the disease to others.” He goes on to say that Quest Diagnostics now offers their own COVID-19 testing option called QuestDirect. You see if you’re eligible for their test, make an appointment, go have your test done, and wait for the results.
If the rapid tests from drug stores aren’t your cup of tea, getting tested at various locations around you is still an option. You can check out pharmacies, urgent care centers, county health departments, and hospitals to see if testing is still available there.
Everyone just wants to have a fun and adventurous summer after a year of staying indoors. It’s important to remember, though, that your actions aren’t just impacting you when there’s still a dangerous virus floating around. Use your better judgement and take time to think about how your actions may impact someone around you; I promise that even if it seems like an inconvenience, it’ll get us one step closer to being all the way “back to normal.”
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Dr. Jeffrey Dlott, Medical Director, Quest Diagnostics
Dr. Mary Rodgers, Principal Scientist, Abbott Laboratories
Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy, Primary Care Doctor, Doctor Spring