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I Got My Covid Vaccine. Now Can I Hug My Mom?

Caitlin Rivers, PhD, MPH
 

Linsey Marr, and Juliet Morrison

People want to know what they can do after they are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans. The agency says vaccinated people can gather indoors in small groups without needing to mask. This includes meeting indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household as long as no one unvaccinated is at high risk for severe Covid-19.

In public, people who are vaccinated should still wear masks and practice distancing. Scientists are still learning how well the vaccines keep people from spreading the virus. If vaccinated people have been around someone with Covid-19, they do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless they have symptoms.

But blanket recommendations can’t account for the nuances of every person’s situation. That’s why we asked three experts from different disciplines — an airborne-transmission expert, Linsey Marr; a virus expert, Juliet Morrison; and an epidemiologist, Caitlin Rivers — to respond to readers’ questions about their postvaccination lifestyles. — Alexandra Sifferlin, senior staff editor

Can I hug my mom, 94 years old, who also has been vaccinated? Do I need to wear a mask when I’m with her? Can we eat dinner together without me putting her life at risk? — Helen Harrison, 55, Mt. Kisco, N.Y.

Linsey Marr: The vaccines will enable us to start spending time together with our loved ones indoors and unmasked. Yes to hugging and spending time together unmasked, but I would still avoid restaurants because of the new variants circulating and likely lower efficacy of some of the vaccines against them, especially because your mom is 94. What you want to avoid is spending more than a few minutes in a situation where there might be high levels of virus in the air. This means that you should avoid crowded indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated.

Caitlin Rivers: I love hearing about families getting together again. Since you are both fully vaccinated, you can safely hug your mom, share a meal and ride in the car. I agree with Dr. Marr that since your mom is older, it’s not a bad idea to choose takeout or dinner at home over a restaurant, where lots of people will be indoors and unmasked.

I am a teacher. Next month classes will resume, and students will be in the classroom. I will be completely vaccinated by that time. Should I continue to take precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing? — Michelle Bowman, 55, Los Gatos, Calif.

Juliet Morrison: You and your students should continue to wear masks and socially distance in the classroom. Since your students are not vaccinated, they can get infected with the virus, get sick and also spread it to others. Based on what we know so far, there is a possibility that you could get infected and transmit it to the unvaccinated persons that you interact with inside and outside of the classroom.

Marr: I’m so glad that teachers are being prioritized for vaccines in many places. While you are protected, the students are not. It is crucial that students follow precautions to minimize the risk of transmission between students and their households by wearing masks and staying apart. I think teachers and other adults in school should continue to wear masks and social distance to set a good example for the students.

Credit: Eleanor Davis

Is it safe to send my child back to day care, where children are too young to be masked and distanced, now that the adults in our household (who are at higher risk because of age and health conditions) are vaccinated? Do any of the variants pose extra risk to young children? — Amy Hill, 44, Silver Spring, Md.

Marr: If the child does not have any underlying medical conditions, then I think it’s OK to send them back to day care. It’s possible the virus could spread among the children at the day care center, but it’s unlikely that your child will be able to spread the virus to vaccinated adults in your household.

Morrison: Since young children are less likely to develop severe disease and the adults are vaccinated, it is less risky to send your child back to day care. If children have medical conditions that predispose them to severe Covid-19, however, they should stay home. Some of the new variants transmit more easily and cause more severe disease in all age groups.

My husband and I are fully vaccinated. Our grandchildren, 9 and 13, are not. Can they spend the day with us and sleep over at our house without any of us wearing masks? My daughter and son-in-law have not gotten a vaccine yet. — Kathy Lee Simpkins, 64, Somerdale, N.J.

Morrison: Yes. Since you are fully vaccinated, you can be unmasked around your grandchildren, provided that they and others in their household are at a low risk of developing severe Covid-19.

Rivers: You can have your grandkids visit and sleep over. Although children are at low risk of severe illness, I worry in some situations that kids could bring the virus home to other family members like your daughter and son-in-law. But since you and your husband are vaccinated, that is not an issue in this case.

I’m a cleaning lady. My clients are getting vaccinated. I’m trying to, but no luck yet. How safe am I in their households as they begin to relax? — Mary Neloa Renken, 66, Portland, Ore.

Marr: You are much safer in their homes than before they were vaccinated. One thing to watch out for is if they have unvaccinated people in their homes right before you are there. If so, then I recommend asking your clients to air out the house before you arrive. They can do this by opening all the doors and windows and turning on any exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms for about 20 minutes.

Morrison: There is evidence suggesting that the vaccines offer some protection against contracting the virus and spreading it to others, but more studies are needed to figure out how well the vaccines protect against transmission. Therefore you should continue to wear a mask when in their homes if they socialize with unvaccinated people.

Credit: Eleanor Davis

When can we host our postponed wedding celebration of 200 people in a normal way? — Mary Gamber, 32, Boston

Marr: Given the large number of people, some of whom will travel to the wedding, and likelihood that some attendees will not be vaccinated (children, those who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated), this celebration should wait until at least July, when we expect all adults to have been vaccinated if they wish. If any children who will be attending have conditions that put them at greater risk for illness, then you will have to consider precautions for the children.

Rivers: I agree with Dr. Marr that summer is reasonable. A summer wedding probably still won’t look exactly like it would have in 2019, though. If there are any unvaccinated adults or children, you will still want to keep masks and ventilation in mind. The nice thing about summer is it’s easier to plan events outdoors, so if that is an option for you, then I think that’s the way to go.

My husband, 67, wants to swim again and, now that he’s vaccinated, feels that it’s safer for him. But what is the risk he will pick up and transmit the virus to me? — Cathy Anderson, 62, Everett, Wash.

Morrison: Your husband can resume swimming, but he should wear his mask when he is not in the pool. Even though he is vaccinated, there is still a possibility that he could get infected and transmit the virus to you. He should continue to wear his mask when interacting with unvaccinated people outside of your household.

Rivers: We don’t yet have a clear understanding about how well the vaccines protect against infection and onward transmission, but early evidence is encouraging. I think it’s reasonable for your husband to go swimming, but I agree with Dr. Morrison that he should continue to wear a mask while out. Vaccine supply is expanding rapidly, so you should be able to get vaccinated soon, too.

Credit: Eleanor Davis

If all six (60 and older) members of the rock band that I play in have been vaccinated, is it OK for us to rehearse indoors? — Steven Wolock, 68, Lambertville, N.J.

Marr: Yes, rock on! This assumes that you are in your own space rather than a shared space that is crowded with other people, such as a club.

Rivers: This sounds fun. Singing can be particularly risky, so choir practice, for example, has not been recommended for the last year. But since you are all vaccinated, you can get together with your band again and practice indoors.

My husband, 79, and I received our second Covid vaccine on March 10. We live in Pennsylvania and are hoping to fly to California in April to see our daughter and her husband, who are not vaccinated. What guidance can you offer about traveling? — Susan Gross, 70, Newtown, Pa.

Marr: It’s great that the vaccines are allowing families to reunite. Everyone still needs to be careful while traveling. Fortunately, mask compliance is high on airplanes and in airports, and airplanes have excellent ventilation and filtration, as long as the systems are running properly. Airports are usually huge spaces where any virus in the air is easily diluted. From my experience, one of the riskier parts of the journey is the boarding and deplaning process, when people are crowded in the aisles and the ventilation and filtration systems might not be running. If you have the flexibility, choose days and times when flights are less crowded. I also suggest bringing your own food so that you can avoid waiting in line for food. If you need to eat and drink, find an uncrowded gate area.

Morrison: You will both be fully vaccinated by the time of your trip, but there is still a possibility that you could get infected and transmit the virus to your daughter and her husband. It would be safer for them if they were also vaccinated against Covid-19. It is for this reason that the C.D.C. still recommends avoiding travel, even if you are vaccinated. If you must travel, you should wear a high-quality mask and avoid crowds. When you arrive in California, continue to behave carefully by sanitizing, washing your hands frequently and social distancing. I recommend that you all wear masks when the two households interact.

Our family from across four states wants to gather for a week in a house on Cape Cod this summer. No way, I say. When would that be safe for anyone to do? — Robert H. Faivre, 55, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Marr: This sounds like it will involve a large group, with people who will have to travel to get to the house. You can do it as soon as all the adults have been fully vaccinated. If children from multiple households are attending and any of them have conditions that put them at greater risk of illness, then you should consider precautions for the children.

Morrison: I don’t recommend attending large gatherings until everyone is vaccinated. If air travel is involved, there is a risk that someone will contract the virus and spread it to the rest of your group. I recommend waiting until you are all vaccinated, which could happen for all the adults by summer. However, the children would not be vaccinated by that time and would therefore be at risk of getting sick if infected. If the children have health issues, it may be better for them to miss this event.

I will be vaccinated by the end of April. Is it safe to plan a small trip with another vaccinated friend if we drive and keep to ourselves? — Katie Menoche, 28, Phoenix, Ariz.

Marr: Yes, this is a relatively safe way to travel, if by “keep to ourselves,” you mean getting takeout and cooking for yourselves rather than eating indoors at restaurants.

Morrison: Yes. Go enjoy yourselves!

Dr. Linsey Marr (@linseymarr) is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Dr. Juliet Morrison (@JumoDr) is a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Caitlin Rivers (@cmyeaton) is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Dr. Marr is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Dr. Morrison is a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Rivers is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

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