The day millions have been waiting for is here—It’s vaccination day! Vaccine rollouts continue to spread from city to city, and many states are now in “open season” for everyone over age 16. The United States surpassed President Biden’s initial goal of “100 million vaccines into arms in his first 100 days,” reaching that tally by day 58.
Yesssss! *claps enthusiastically*
NPR reports that we can all feel a sense of optimism, maybe even breathe a sigh of relief, as the numbers of vaccinated go up and COVID cases go down. “We’ve turned a corner,” says Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “We’re just getting vaccine out, day in and day out, and we’re making progress.”
What does that mean? Can fully vaccinated people really return to normal, pre-pandemic life? Is the world safe again?
The CDC says yes—kind of. Fully vaccinated adults can now safely hang out with other fully vaccinated adults—WITHOUT MASKS OR SOCIAL DISTANCING. Wheeeeee!!! Looks like my neighborhood book club is back, baby!
What about families with children under 16 though? Their vaccines aren’t available yet and we don’t know when they will be. But spring is here, the sun is out, and these kids haven’t had playdates in a year. Come summer, can we travel? Hit the beach? Amusement parks? In-door fun centers like arcades or trampoline parks?
Not quite. “Families with unvaccinated kids shouldn’t rush straight back into pre-pandemic life, even if both parents are fully immunized, says Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the pediatric division of infectious diseases at Children’s of Alabama, tells Time Magazine. “We are beginning to loosen up and emerge from this darkness,” Kimberlin says, but “it’s not full sunlight” yet.
That means your kids can now safely see Grandma and Grandpa, but it’s best to do so at their house or yours, not necessarily at a big gathering of 30 people.
Infectious disease doctor Manisha Juthani of Yale Medicine explains, “Grandparents who are fully vaccinated could socialize with their children and grandchildren in another household who all live together.”
Also, experts remind us that even a visit with Nana isn’t 100% risk-free for unvaccinated kids. Because Nana, now that she’s vaccinated, might be out in the world, returning to her office in-person, going to Bingo, hitting up the sales rack at TJMaxx—and good for her if she is—but she could still potentially pick up and transmit COVID.
Because even though the world gets safer and safer as each shot goes into an arm, we aren’t fully out of the woods yet, and we need to keep that in mind as we eek back out into the world and expose our kids to more people and places.
Infectious disease specialists are also saying that although it’s “open season” for vaccines, it’s not yet “open season” for indoor, mask-less playdates. And it won’t be until kids get their shots. Outdoor playdates are safer, and if they do come inside, they should still be masked. But, we can take comfort in knowing that the risk of our kids getting COVID continues to decline. As weeks and months tick by, we can slowly expand our bubble, and maybe invite over that friend our kids have been wanting to see for a year—even if just to play tag in the backyard.
How about public places? I mean, some of us weren’t a fan of indoor playgrounds before COVID because they’re honestly just giant petri-dishes, but we also need to let our kids burn off energy on a rainy day.
Dr. Guliz Erdem, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, recommends avoiding them, even if the adults in the family are vaccinated. “The main point is to avoid crowds and crowded settings—places that you cannot control what will happen,” she says.
Because you know kids don’t keep masks on and don’t keep their hands clean. Letting them jump into a ball pit or climb through a maze of tunnels with a bunch of other kids you don’t know just still isn’t safe yet.
However, I get it. Those summer days are loooooong and these loud, energetic kids can make our heads explode. Mine like to do GoNoodles, make obstacle courses in the basement, or do chores to earn a little cash on a rainy day when they’re hyper and driving me nuts. Or I send them outside—even if it’s raining a little. Splash in the puddles! Dig for worms! Whatever. Just go.
But yeah, for our family, crowds and indoor play areas will still have to wait until all five of us are fully protected.
Of course, with it being spring break season and summer on the horizon, travel is on people’s minds as well. The CDC still does not recommend recreational travel (although apparently the 8 billion people in Florida right now didn’t get the memo) but if you do decide to take the risk, it’s best to take a few extra precautions.
First of all, the CDC says to wait two weeks after you’ve been completely vaccinated before skipping town, to ensure your body is fully protected. Also, driving is still a safer option than airline travel, as a family can have far better control of who and what they are exposed to if they vacation via road trip and avoid crowded airports and airplanes. And, it’s a much safer option to head somewhere with lots of wide open spaces—like the mountains where you can hike, or a secluded lake where you can swim—as opposed to a crowded tourist attraction.
The safest way to travel—at least for the time being—is by car, avoiding stops as much as possible. The least safe method, according to the CDC, is via flying with layovers or taking a cruise.
Listen, my family has cabin fever as much as anyone else. Last year we barely left the house other than the occasional hike or neighborhood walk. Now, we’re ready to explore our state a bit more—maybe drive a few hours, without stopping if we can, and setting up camp at a lake or renting an AirBnB for a night. We’ll bring our own food or order takeout, and enjoy looking at something other than the walls of our own house! 2022 might be the year for airline travel for our family, but not until all of us—including my three children—have received a vaccine.
And finally, what about schools? As we know, the CDC has advocated for schools being open for a while now, as they don’t seem to be hotspots for COVID spread as many had feared. (At least, the ones taking proper precautions don’t. Schools not requiring masks, not practicing social distancing, and not mandating quarantine periods for COVID cases… well, they’re a different story.)
But schools who are handling this pandemic properly, experts say, are actually pretty safe (although nothing is 100% safe outside of complete quarantine). In fact, all three doctors interviewed for this Time Magazine article say they’d send their school-aged children back to in-person school if the staff was administering proper precautions.
So to sum it up, the outside world is safer than it was last year at this time. However, the pandemic isn’t over. Enjoy having Grandma and Grandpa over for dinner, but maybe postpone your child’s Chuck E Cheese birthday party until next year. Take a local road trip and get some fresh air and exercise, but packing your family into a crowded restaurant at Disney World is still a big risk.
And sending children back to in-person school is still a personal decision that parents need to make, based on what they are comfortable with, their children’s health risks, and how well their school district and community is handling COVID. But even if you and your children aren’t ready to return just yet, or your district isn’t open yet for in-person instruction, take comfort in knowing that things are moving in the right direction, and we’ll get there.
At the very least, this spring is already looking brighter than last year’s. And we can all be grateful for that.