The summer of 2021 wasn’t exactly what many of us hoped it would be. Weeks of climbing vaccination rates and declining COVID cases in the spring had many of envisioning a summer of increased freedoms like eating in restaurants, traveling without worry, and gathering with friends and family for long overdue milestone celebrations. But soon, those statistics turned in the opposite directions as the Delta variant took hold; instead, it was case numbers that started climbing and vaccination rates slowing down. Recently many of us have been left to consider once again if activities we thought were safe truly are amid the current Delta surge.
To get some insight on that, in August, STAT News contacted nearly 30 epidemiologists, immunologists, and other infectious disease experts across the U.S. to ask them what they thought was low risk and what they’d stay away from as Delta cases continued to climb. While there were a couple activities the majority of them deemed to be relatively safe—like getting a haircut and attending a large outdoor event—there were six things the virus experts largely said they wouldn’t do right now, especially without a mask. Read on to find out what they are.
6 Go on a non-essential international trip
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 59 percent (16 of 27)Carlos del Rio, MD, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, told STAT that he has visited his mother in Mexico twice since the pandemic started, but he wouldn’t make the trip now. “I am very careful when I travel,” he wrote to the news outlet via email. “At this point I am not going [to Mexico]. May go later in the year.” Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington, and William Hanage, PhD, an epidemiologist in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, both said they wouldn’t travel internationally at the moment out of fear of getting stuck should restrictions change.
5 Go to an indoor wedding or other religious service
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 59 percent (16 of 27)
When asking the virus experts whether or not they would go to an indoor wedding or religious service, STAT specified that it would be a gathering where they did not know the vaccination status of the other attendees, which seemed to move the experts in the “no” direction. Saskia Popescu, PhD, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor in George Mason University’s biodefense program, said even with a mask, she wouldn’t go to a wedding. Emergency physician Uché Blackstock, MD, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, said she’d skip any large gatherings at this point, even those taking place outdoor.
4 Eat indoors in a restaurant
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 67 percent (18 of 27)
According to STAT’s findings, eating indoors was a complex issue for many of the expert respondents. Six said they would eat inside or would do so during off hours, and three more said they would dine inside but would wear a mask when they weren’t eating or drinking. Saad B. Omer, PhD, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said he would eat indoors if the restaurant required proof of vaccination. But many agreed with epidemiologist John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, that they’d “prioritize eating outside where possible.”
3 Go to a movie theater
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 81 percent (22 of 27)
While Shweta Bansal, PhD, an associate professor of biology at Georgetown University, called this activity “non-essential” and said she wouldn’t do it at the moment, Hanage and Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said they would go to the movies but would wear a mask.
2 Send an vaccinated teen to school without a mask
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 89 percent (24 of 27)
Most virus experts said they’d only send a vaccinated teen to school if masks were required, but there were some complex answers to that question, STAT reported.
On one end of the spectrum was Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, who said he’d specifically have a vaccinated teen wear an N95, noting that cloth face masks don’t protect against a variant as contagious as Delta.
On the other end of the spectrum was Ellen Foxman, MD, an immunologist at Yale University. She said she would send a vaccinated teen to a school without a mask mandate in certain situations. “If the school required all students and staff to be vaccinated, I would have no problem whatsoever with no masks,” she said, noting she’d be more inclined to do so if there was a low COVID transmission rate in the area and if there was no one of high risk in her household.
1 Send an unvaccinated child to school without a mask
Virus experts who wouldn’t do it: 100 percent (27 of 27)
When asked if they would send an unvaccinated child to school without a mask, the virus experts were unanimous. “NO!!! As a parent and a pediatrician, that is a terrible idea,” Andrew Pavia, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah, wrote to STAT. Del Rio said he’d take his unvaccinated child out of any school that didn’t have a mask mandate and Paul Offit, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, simply replied: “Lord, no.”
Article and photo by Best Life