How to Have a Hot Vax Summer and Be COVID-Safe, Too
The streets are calling, but that doesn't mean it's time to play fast and loose. These are the new rules for hanging out now that more and more of us are vaccinated.
“The streets are calling,” one of my best friends texted me last week when Governor Wolf announced that all statewide COVID mitigation restrictions (other than the masking mandate) will be lifted at the end of the month. Now, it looks like Philadelphia’s reopening schedule isn’t far behind. Ready or not, public gatherings, business operations and socializing are coming back just in time for summer.
I’ve been fully vaccinated since February and had already been venturing out a little more than many of my friends and colleagues. So I’ve had a bit of time to ponder how I will and won’t operate as the world reopens. Most of my earlier outings were just me and my fiancé, eating outdoors or in small gatherings indoors with other vaccinated friends.
But in recent weeks — as vaccination rates rose and some of my favorite restaurants had grand reopenings — the game has changed entirely. Many people are already referring to the next few months as “Hot Vax Summer,” one in which we’ll return to beaches, bars and block parties with a vengeance. As one colleague put it, “We’re making up for lost time.” But trying to overcompensate for a 2020 summer that didn’t pop off doesn’t mean we can act like COVID-19 has left the building.
If you’re going to go back out and hit the streets, you need a new code of conduct to keep yourself safe and prevent another COVID-19 wave. Here’s what I recommend, based on science and my own observations from the trenches.
Be upfront with your friends about your vaccination status and comfort level.
One of the trickiest things about trying to plan meetups with friends I haven’t seen in months is knowing who is fully vaxxed and what their boundaries are. I recently planned an outdoor brunch, and a few friends who weren’t there experienced instant fear of missing out (FOMO) because I didn’t know if they were vaxxed or not. Don’t be that person. If you’re trying to hit the streets with your crew, let people know in advance whether or not you’re vaxxed and also what you are and aren’t okay with doing. Some of my friends aren’t comfortable with indoor dining yet. That’s fine — just let people know ahead of time. Not ready to dine in congested parts of the city? Let your peeps know that, too. Transparency is the key. For example, the next time you’re in that group chat with friends, update them on your vaccination status and let them know you’re down to hang. Whenever an event pops up, follow up on the parameters (i.e., ask how many people are attending, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, and if other guests are fully vaxxed). And decide from there if such a gathering is up to your standards. You’d be surprised how normal it is to have these proactive discussions, given the current state of affairs. Plus, you won’t have to overthink things during the frolicking itself — which is always a better vibe.
Continue to make masks and personal hand sanitizer your favorite accessories.
Regardless of what the CDC says about fully vaxxed people not having to wear a mask outdoors — you will still need one when you’re going indoors, riding Uber/Lyft, and everywhere else. Until we get a much higher rate of vaxxed Americans, masks are what will keep the country — including those who can’t get immunized or are at higher risk — safe. So making masks normal and expected should be part of the social contract, even if you personally feel safe. Keep a favored mask on you, the way you do your cell phone. Whether or not you choose to wear it in the park, keep it handy, just in case things get awkward. And regardless of any of those circumstances — hand sanitizer is still a necessity. I treat the antibacterial liquid like chewing gum: Whether I’m in a meeting or running into someone I know on the corner, I use it in times of need and offer it to others. It’s become the new social courtesy/currency that’s keeping us safe and alive.
No indoor dinner parties unless everyone is fully vaxxed.
While outdoor dining has been the go-to option during the pandemic, I’ve missed the decor, ambience and extravagance that only indoor dining provides. And doing it with a friend or two isn’t the same: Simply put, nothing beats an epic dinner party. But given the hesitance that lingers around group dinners indoors, I’ve made a personal rule — we’ll only be doing large dining experiences with fully vaxxed guests. It’s nothing personal, just a precaution. It’s impossible, and awkward as hell, to expect a group of friends to eat dinner under the same roof while socially distanced. Therefore, to avoid the risk of spreading COVID (because fully vaxxed people might still be able to spread it to those who aren’t), I’ve eliminated such potential liabilities. It’s summer — hot nights, starry skies, great outdoor dining options. Why take risks when the conditions are perfect for a backyard barbecue?
Avoid large crowds indoors; only tolerate them if outdoors.
Crowds, whether they’re indoors or outdoors, are still not the move. Avoid them at all costs indoors, but still be wary of them outdoors. And if you find yourself unexpectedly in a crowd, leave. Just imagine all of the sneezing, coughing, touching, bumping into, and overall germy claustrophobia that will be unleashed simply because you want to see what all the fuss is about. Yeah, so not worth it.
If you’re under the weather, don’t go out.
This should be a no-brainer, but it must be said: If you’re feeling sick — even a little — or if you just think you might be coming down with something, stay home. Maybe it’s allergies; maybe it’s not. Unless you’re a doctor, you shouldn’t be making the diagnosis. There’s already enough hysteria without you coughing or sweating profusely in public. Sit this one out for the team; it’s not worth the hassle.