We’re at a particularly confusing point in the pandemic for the 50 percent of Americans who have been fully vaccinated. Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
  • Navigating life among surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant can feel tricky — but it comes down to personal risk factors and transmission rates around you.
  • Vaccinated people with underlying conditions may want to take extra steps to safeguard their health.
  • Others may want to continue to wear masks if they’re in contact with people who are immunocompromised or children who are too young to be vaccinated.

As cases of the Delta variant rise and COVID-19 cases are breaking new records in some states, we’re at a particularly confusing point in the pandemic for the 50 percent of Americans who have been fully vaccinated.

We’re told the vaccines provide great protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death — but that vaccinated people should also continue to mask up in certain situations. 

Navigating life when the Delta variant is surging can feel tricky, but it all comes down to your personal risk factors and how transmission rates are around you.

Here’s what experts say vaccinated people should think about when determining what activities are safe to do amid the Delta surge.

Understanding your risk tolerance 

When trying to determine what’s safe to do after being vaccinated, it’s crucial to look at two things: your personal risk factors and the cases in your area. 

No vaccine is 100 percent effective all the time, and certain people could have a higher chance of developing a serious COVID-19 case even if they’re vaccinated.

Additionally, if people are going to interact with others who are immunocompromised or children who are too young to be vaccinated, they may want to take extra steps to safeguard their health and minimize risks of developing the disease so they can’t pass it on to others.

Individuals who are “high-risk,” such as those who have received a solid organ transplant, will need to take stricter precautions in areas with low vaccination rates and high levels of community spread compared to a generally healthy person, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert.

“Outside of that, I haven’t changed any of my thoughts on what behavior should be,” Adalja said.

Healthy people who contract breakthrough cases will most likely develop mild symptoms in line with the common cold. “For me, the risk calculation to prevent a common cold isn’t as important to me as whatever activity I am doing,” Adalja said.

All that said, researchers are still learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19, so while vaccinated people are likely to not face dangerous symptoms they still may be at risk for long COVID-19.

The vaccines cut your risk of severe disease

Dr. F. Perry Wilson, a Yale Medicine physician and researcher at Yale School of Medicine, said that broadly speaking, vaccinated people should feel relatively safe living their lives right now.

“Vaccination turns COVID from this deadly thing, this potentially deadly thing, to a much less severe thing,” Wilson said. 

Look at it like we’re having a really active flu season where influenza was spreading all around you. “You wouldn’t necessarily be a hermit, but you might be a little careful,” Wilson said, adding that you might not get that sick, but you probably don’t want to catch it anyway. 

People who have extensive co-morbidities or serious underlying health conditions might want to take extra precautions when choosing to do certain activities — whether it’s a bad flu season or a surge of COVID-19.

If you’re ever concerned about contracting a breakthrough infection, a high quality mask that’s well-fitted to your face can boost your protection.

Additionally, if you’re in contact with people who are vulnerable, you could take these extra precautions so you don’t risk getting the disease and then transmitting the virus to them.

What to consider with various activities

With each activity, consider your personal risk tolerance and local transmission.

With that in mind, here’s what the experts say is safe to do right now if you’re fully vaccinated:

Dining indoors

For a generally healthy person, eating indoors is fine, according to Adalja.

Wilson agreed. If you feel like you’re at low risk and you don’t have a significant health issue, eating indoors is a go. Again if you are at higher risk or in contact with someone who is immunocompromised you may want to avoid eating indoors.

Small indoor gatherings where everyone’s vaccinated

This is very safe. “In a situation where everyone is vaccinated, that’s about as safe as you can get,” Wilson said.

Breakthrough infections are happening, so ask anyone with symptoms — a runny nose or a sore throat — to sit this one out. 

Indoor concerts or events

Wilson said at this point, he wouldn’t feel comfortable attending a crowded indoor concert where Delta cases are rapidly increasing. But, again, it’s a personal choice.

The risk of exposure is high in a situation like this, but you do have protection from the vaccines. If you get a breakthrough infection, you’re “probably going to be fine, but you might get sick after that,” Wilson said.

In a crowded indoor setting, if you want to really avoid even a breakthrough infection, Wilson recommends wearing a well-fitting mask. If you have medical conditions that increase your risk, you’ll probably want to avoid this one, advised Wilson. 

Outdoor concerts of events

An outdoor concert or sporting event is much safer. You’re less likely to be exposed to a high viral load when there’s good air flow. Weigh your personal risk — if you’re concerned, you can always wear a mask. 

Flying or traveling

The air flow and ventilation on planes is really good, and there haven’t been many documented reports of transmission on planes. Masks are still required on planes, and Wilson recommends a KN95 or N95.

“I wouldn’t avoid travel if you’re vaccinated. I feel that this is OK as long as you take the proper precautions,” Wilson said. 

Going to the movies

Adalja said this isn’t an issue for generally healthy people who are vaccinated. “All of these activities relate to a person’s personal risk tolerance,” he added. 

Experts don’t think we’ll eliminate COVID-19

Adalja said there will never be a time when there will be zero COVID-19 cases. His concern is that people don’t understand that COVID-19 is something we will always have to live with. 

COVID-19 is an endemic respiratory virus that’s never going away, Adalja said. Most vaccinated people who get a breakthrough case will experience mild symptoms.

“The goal was to vaccinate people so that they don’t have severe consequences, not to protect people from every breakthrough infection,” Adalja said. 

The bottom line

As the Delta variant continues to surge, navigating what you can and can’t do can feel tricky.

Infectious diseases experts say that generally healthy people who are vaccinated are well protected from severe COVID-19 cases, but that if you have higher risks of developing complications, you’ll want to take extra precautions.

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