What Now?
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

What Now?

As cases of COVID-19 went up and down over the past year, restrictions and guidance about socializing tightened and relaxed. Throughout that time, we urged our community not to be complacent. We wanted everyone to follow the guidance carefully so as not to drop mitigation measures too soon. “Wait for the all-clear message,” we said.

With the vaccination rates in Vermont having reached the desired threshold of 80%, we have reached that remarkable moment when our leaders have indicated we can return to our normal lives. I'd like to clarify what a safe return to socializing entails.

Vaccinated people can safely go unmasked. Just as our leaders have looked to the scientific data to make recommendations throughout the pandemic, this guidance is also based in science. Those with normal immune function who are fully vaccinated are at very little risk of a serious case of COVID-19.

If you are fully vaccinated, you can continue to wear your mask, if you would like to. There will be no rules prohibiting them. While the vaccine provides plenty of protection, you should do what makes you most comfortable.

If you know of people who are not vaccinated yet, do your best to support them in a decision to get vaccinated. They might need to hear how fast and easy it was or that there is a walk-in clinic near where they live. They might need a ride to the vaccination site. Supporting those willing to get a vaccine will help increase our vaccination rate even more and make everyone even safer.

If you’re not yet fully vaccinated or have a suppressed immune system, I recommend continuing to wear your mask while in public and when with members outside your household, unless you can maintain social distance outside. Your mask combined with a high rate of vaccination among your neighbors will protect you against COVID-19.

Of course, get vaccinated as soon as you can. Getting vaccinated will make life more fun, as you can socialize and travel more freely without worry of becoming infected.

Those who are not vaccinated will most definitely get COVID at some time. The virus has not disappeared. Cases are essentially among unvaccinated people, younger people who are still having a range of illness, including severe infections with long lasting debilitating symptoms. 

Don’t toss your masks entirely. They will still be required in some settings, including when receiving health care or visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices and when traveling on public transportation.

There is a chance that cases of COVID-19 will rise when the cold weather returns, especially in areas where fewer people are vaccinated, and you might want to mask up again, especially if new variants are shown to sidestep the vaccination. 

In the meantime, I encourage you to make the most of this summer and all of the fun social opportunities it has to offer. Our long isolation has taken its toll. Travel, visit, and enjoy each other.

Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s infectious disease specialist.

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