With COVID-19 still prevalent, it’s important to understand what summer activities are safe—whether you are vaccinated or not.
The warm summer weather is arriving, more people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and it is finally starting to feel like we are going back to some sense of normalcy. However, reintegrating into this “new normal” could trigger feelings of anxiety and nervousness around what is safe to do this summer.
While vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections, there is no such thing as zero-risk situations. A seatbelt protects you while driving a car, but you may still experience an accident. As long as there are unvaccinated individuals in your area, you should continue to wear a mask when indoors with others whose vaccine status you may not know.
With the help of emergency medicine physician Dr. Efrat Kean, infectious disease physician Dr. Mark J. Fussa, and family medicine physician Dr. Karen Dong, we have put together a comprehensive summer guide for what is safe and precautions you should be taking—vaccinated or not.
Outdoor Exercise: Low risk
Outdoor exercise is preferable, according to Dr. Kean, because every breath you take outdoors is immediately diluted by clean, healthy air. Because running outside without a mask can become more problematic on trails where you may be running alongside others, Dr. Kean says that masking should be considered based on your individual risk tolerance.
When it comes to outdoor group exercise, it is better and safer than indoor exercise, as long as you can maintain six feet distance from others. “I would happily attend an outdoor exercise class,” says Dr. Kean.
Going to a Museum or Movie Theater: Relatively Low Risk
These are generally large indoor spaces, so the issues aren’t the same as smaller spaces. Dr. Kean says to keep six feet of distance between yourself and anyone not vaccinated or in your household and wear a mask to lower your risk.
Going Shopping: Situationally Low Risk
Grocery stores and department stores tend to be larger with good ventilation. Since you don’t know the vaccination status of other patrons, and these can be high-volume spaces, Dr. Kean recommends continuing to wear a mask.
Going to Church: Situationally Low Risk
Physically being inside a church, if you’re vaccinated, has about the same risk as a museum or theater, says Dr. Kean. Stay cautious about activities like singing with anyone unvaccinated, as singing and shouting can generate aerosol droplets. There have been several mass-spread events associated with singing in groups.
Going to a Ballgame: Situationally Low Risk
Outdoor activities are always safer, but it’s crucial to maintain masking or social distancing in public when in larger groups of people. “If you are vaccinated and not in a big crowd and can maintain distance from others, not wearing a mask is okay. If you are in a big, closely packed crowd, like a crowded arena, you should keep your mask on. Anyone unvaccinated should continue to wear a mask and social distance,” says Dr. Kean.
Going to the Beach: Situationally Moderate Risk
If we go about beach outings right, they can be an incredibly fun and safe activity this summer, says Dr. Fussa. “We know that being outdoors decreases the overall risk of transmission, but we have to recognize the difference between sitting on a crowded beach versus an uncrowded beach, where people are piled right on top of you. If you can social-distance and stay six or more feet apart from all other families, then your risk is relatively low.”
With that being said, the recommendations from last summer still stand. Try to find less touristy beaches and go at non-peak times. Always wear your mask when entering a crowded area (such as the bathroom) and wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with high-touch surfaces, advises Dr. Fussa.
Letting Kids Have Sleepovers: Situationally Moderate Risk
Small sleepovers are a different story than sleepaway camps, says Dr. Dong. The two primary factors that decrease the overall risk are the size of the group and the duration of time spent together. Whether or not adult family members are vaccinated also plays a role because the child’s overall exposure level decreases when family members are vaccinated. Two households with fully vaccinated family members is a low-risk situation. Just like any indoor gathering, the more households and unvaccinated individuals involved, the higher the risk.
Hanging Out with Friends or Family Indoors: Situationally Moderate Risk
Currently, the CDC states that it is safe for a small group of fully vaccinated individuals to be indoors together and unmasked, says Dr. Fussa. It is also relatively low risk to spend time indoors with one unvaccinated individual or family, especially if they’ve been a regular part of your “social pod”— a small group of friends and/or family who socialize and adhere to the same set of rules to reduce COVID-19 risk. (Learn more about creating safe social pods here.)
“The emphasis here is on ‘small group,’” notes Dr. Fussa. “Naturally, your risk will increase as more people enter the mix. Setting limits and boundaries can be difficult; try to stick to your intuition and explain to others that you’re doing what’s safe for everyone involved.”
Hosting or Attending a BBQ: Situationally Moderate Risk
Spending time outside with a similarly small group of friends and family (whether they’re all vaccinated or one individual/household is unvaccinated) can be even safer. BBQs are something we can look forward to, says Dr. Fussa.
But don’t throw caution to the wind, continues Dr. Fussa. “It may be wise to still social distance instead of sitting right on top of each other. Avoid settings like block parties. Keep it intimate and enjoy good times with your loved ones, rather than strangers, whose lifestyles you know nothing about.”
Dining at Restaurants: Situationally Moderate Risk
Restaurants can be crowded and small spaces with poor ventilation. Your risk of infecting someone is significantly lower if you are vaccinated but not zero, so you should assess your individual risk tolerance. Dr. Kean says, “I personally avoid indoor dining, despite being fully vaccinated.”
However, outdoor dining is a significantly lower risk. Dr. Kean says to be sure those at your table are fully vaccinated or are from your own household and keep six feet of distance from other tables.
Sending Kids to Summer Day Camps: Situationally Moderate Risk
Outside day camps are generally low risk and offer great activities children can get involved with during the summer, says Dr. Dong. Some day camps, like STEM camps, are held indoors, so the risk increases slightly. Masking and social distancing are helpful in both environments. Remember, young kids are not yet vaccinated. While there are state mandates, each camp is likely to have a unique set of rules, so you should speak with the camp director(s) or counselor(s) about what they have in place to keep everyone safe, suggests Dr. Dong.
“Keep in mind, even though transmission rates among children have been significantly lower than in adults, new findings show that the South African and United Kingdom variants may impact children more,” explains Dr. Dong. “A positive note is that those 16 and older can get vaccinated, and this gives them even more options that are low risk.”
Taking an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi: Moderate Risk
“Treat riding in a carshare the same way that you would treat being in a small room with someone you aren’t sure is vaccinated. Wear a mask, keep the windows open to improve ventilation, and try to maintain the maximum distance you reasonably can,” says Dr. Kean.
Going to the Gym: Situationally Higher Risk
Whether or not it is safe to go back to the gym is something Dr. Kean says is situational to the specific gym. A well-ventilated space where you are far apart from others may be ok for vaccinated people—with a mask. But, if you’re doing a workout that involves breathing heavily, Dr. Kean says that your aerosol droplets may reach far beyond the recommended six feet that we consider safe. It is important to continue to wear a mask if you are indoors, and smaller gyms that don’t allow for significant distance between patrons, and proper ventilation, may be less safe.
Dr. Kean says that indoor group exercise classes pose a different set of risks. A small indoor space with many others breathing heavily without a mask is a higher-risk activity if not everyone is vaccinated. The risk of spreading COVID-19 when vaccinated is low, but low is still a risk of infecting others.
Sending Kids to Sleepaway Camps: High Risk
Some sleepaway camps require two weeks of “quarantine” before camp starts, but that’s not to say everyone will do it. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that basic precautions can do when you’re living, eating and bunking together for several weeks, explains Dr. Dong. Children coming from many different towns will spend significant time in close quarters, so it is high risk.
Traveling by Plane: High Risk
Unfortunately, most airlines are not staggering seating to allow for proper distancing during flights. Enforcement of passengers masking on planes is sporadic and depends on the airline, which creates a higher risk of infection, Dr. Kean warns.
“Similar to going to the gym, riding in a plane has gone from being something I definitely wouldn’t do before being vaccinated to something that I would maybe consider with an N95 or similar level mask, given the prolonged time you’re very close to potentially unvaccinated passengers,” says Dr. Kean. Further, he advises considering the risk of introducing a new local variant to another location without knowing it when traveling long distances.
With all these fun activities in mind, it’s important to remember that what “feels right” for one person may not “feel right” for you—and that’s okay, continues Dr. Fussa. “The key is finding the right balance. Determine what you can tolerate. No situation is going to be ‘zero risk,’ and many situations can run the gamut, depending on how we approach them. But let’s get out there and try to enjoy this summer—and alleviate some stress—as safely as we can.”
Want more information? Tune into The Health Nexus Podcast where Drs. Mark Fussa, Karen Dong, and Vanessa Carlo discuss share tips for having a safe summer and how to assess your personal risk, along with vaccine information for children and the timelines associated.