The vaccine is here, and for many, getting it could be just around the corner. This process has already been anything but perfect, with minority healthcare workers in some cities not getting the vaccine at the same rate as white healthcare workers, and one worker dying after getting his second shot. Health officials still can’t say whether or not we’ll need a COVID-19 vaccine every year, the same way we need a flu shot. Needless to say, the administering of the vaccine is no reason for everyone to let their guard down and behave as if we’ve conquered the virus. But it seems many Americans are taking it as a sign that they can lighten up on precautions.
If you get the malaria vaccine before traveling to a place known for malaria, do you then go play with mosquitos? Or, a more realistic example: After you’ve had your flu shot, do you go have an intimate snuggle with someone who you know has the flu? Probably not. So even for those who have had the vaccine, or mostly spend time with those who have been vaccinated, this is no time to get lazy about being safe. We might be close to conquering COVID-19 sometime soon, but if that knowledge drives everyone to make dumb decisions, things may get a whole lot worse before they get better. And we can’t really afford for things to get any worse. Here are ways we shouldn’t yet get lax about COVID-19.
No longer wearing masks outdoors
We know that being indoors with others right now is generally riskier than being outdoors with others, but the CDC reports that the biggest indicator of whether or not a person will become sick is proximity and time spent exposed to an infected person. That means that having a picnic, even outside, with an infected individual for a long period of time puts you at risk for getting the virus. If you’re going to the beach, going hiking on a crowded trail, or joining friends for an outdoor barbecue, keep your mask on. If you have designated seating areas at the barbecue, put on your mask if you must be near others to get food or use the bathroom.
Ignoring social distancing outdoors
Again, the CDC reports that distance and time of exposure are the biggest predictors of getting the virus. And while it can be annoying to have to talk loudly when you sit in your chairs, six feet apart from friends while hanging out, it’s not yet time to huddle up around a fireplace. And if you think the weather where you are weakens the virus, unfortunately, that’s not true, according to research. Humidity and temperature have little bearing on the virus’s strength, so those enjoying a little sunshine and warmer weather right now are no safer from the virus than those in cold temperatures.
Going mask-less around your building
While the research is still quite limited, one expert on indoor air quality reported in a tweet that the coronavirus may survive in an elevator after the infected individual has exited, and an assistant professor with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests not speaking unless absolutely necessary when inside of an elevator with others. Nobody can say for certain that you can catch COVID-19 in an elevator, but they also can’t say for certain that it’s impossible. So while it’s a pain to wear your mask just to get your mail or take out the trash, keep it on when you’re in communal spaces of your apartment building.
Hosting indoor events
“I already had it.” “My guests already had it.” “It’s just a few of us.” “They don’t see anyone or go anywhere.” These may be some excuses people are making to start having indoor gatherings again. If you’re going with the “we already had COVID-19” excuse, know that there have been reports of reinfection. Furthermore, experts simply know little about how having the virus once impacts one’s immunity towards it. So if they don’t know, then neither do you. As for the excuse, “These guests don’t go anywhere or see anyone,” well, they’re going to your place to see you so, that raises a question about how serious they’re being in regards to this isolation of which they brag.
Taking non-essential flights
The good news is that, overall, air travel is down. The bad news is that it appears to be open season as soon as a holiday pops up. If you look at this chart from the TSA reporting traveler numbers, you’ll see that on the first of January of this year, there were well over a million airline passengers. These travelers must have gotten some memo we missed about how COVID-19 politely takes time off while people travel around for the holidays. Please excuse me while I wipe up the sarcasm dripping from that last sentence.
Here’s the real memo: the CDC reports that the risk of wide-spread infection during long flights is very real.
Riding in cars with other maskless people
If close proximity plus extended exposure equals a high risk of infection, then we should still be wearing masks when we ride in cars with anyone from outside of our households. If you have to take Lyft or Uber to get around, be aware of that, as one driver reports, some passengers who sat in that very spot before you may not have been careful. Sadly, research has found that the driver could be most at risk due to the way air travels from the front to the back of the car and back again. Driving with all four windows down is the safest option for all riders.
Getting sloppy with your mask
One day, seeing a mask could be very triggering for this generation. They’re everywhere for now. Cute little ones are sold in packs at the cash register of every store. Are you even an Etsy vendor if you don’t make masks? The hooks near home entrances now contain umbrellas, jackets, and masks on masks on masks. I know – we’re so over it. But we haven’t turned a corner to where it’s safe to treat these as optional. It’s still important to wear, wash, and store your mask properly (we cover that here). And if anyone gives you a hard time about still wearing a mask after everyone has had their vaccine, well you can just politely cough, loudly, and watch them squeamishly cover their face – you know, as if they were wearing a mask.
Paying a visit to grandma
The CDC reports that eight out of 10 reported COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been adults ages 65 and up. This group is very vulnerable. Your loved ones in this age group may also be the ones you’re most eager to see once they get the vaccine, as you’ve (hopefully) stayed away from them throughout this pandemic. But, as previously stated, little is still known about the effectiveness of the vaccine, or about one’s ability to be re-infected. Translation: it’s not time to go hug grandma without a mask on in an enclosed space. Even if she has been vaccinated.
Rushing back to indoor luxuries
Pedicure. Manicure. Blow-out. Spa days. Massages. Heated yoga classes. These are all things we miss very, very much. Everybody wants to return to normal as there are so many little indulgences everybody has given up during this time (responsible people, at least). But still, use your discretion and intelligence. Just because things are reopening doesn’t mean one should, necessarily, get into a crowded hot tub or sauna. It doesn’t mean it’s time to have a girls’ night with 10friends who keep losing track of whose margarita glass is whose or whether or not they double dipped their chip in the dip.
Easing up on immunity boosters
Research has found that Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely than other groups to be low in vitamin D and that individuals who are low in vitamin D are more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with normal levels. While a direct correlation has not been proven, perhaps these statistics can show the importance of keeping up with immunity-boosting supplements. Plus, this isn’t the only virus we need to protect ourselves against. Keeping your immune system strong is always important, even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. So keep those deliveries of vitamin D coming – and keep zinc and vitamin C on hand, too.