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Mix and mingle? Many have questions as pandemic winds down
As shots go into arms, caution is concern
Published Sunday, June 6, 2021 9:00 pm
by Aaliyah Bowden

As more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19, many are still taking precaution away from home.

On Saturdays, Valerie Edwards shops at the flea market with her daughter for clothes, jewelry, and fresh produce.

Even though she received her COVID-19 vaccine a couple of months ago, Edwards, 54, continues to be cautious, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing in public, washing her hands, and even taking her temperature. Edwards is still not “comfortable with doing a lot traveling.”

“Even though I have been vaccinated, there are so many people that have not been vaccinated yet, so I'm still trying to use precautions with travel,” said Edwards.

With the federal mask mandate eased for people who received the COVID-19 vaccine, some are planning trips to the beach, or better even outside the U.S this summer. Anyone who is fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a face mask, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month.

“Right now, we are seeing the vaccine is really effective at driving cases down,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services section chief for chronic disease and injury. “We're seeing less spread in our community.”

As of last week, there were 1,003, 989 reported cases in North Carolina and nearly half of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the agency.
In the past week, “three percent of individuals in Mecklenburg County tested positive for COVID-19,” maintaining a stable trend in the county for more than 14 days according to a county statement.

With vaccines rolling out and a decrease in COVID-19 cases, people are wondering what the “new normal” will look like past-pandemic. Will we have to practice social distancing while on vacation? Are face masks necessary even for the vaccinated? Will a COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot be necessary in the fall?

As of now, CDC is still unsure about how long the COVID-19 vaccine will provide herd immunity, but based on data from other contagious diseases, scientists do know how it works within a community.

Herd immunity
With the state’s rate of vaccination, NCDHHS is not primarily focused on herd immunity but on “bringing levels down to where they are manageable and controllable,” Kansagra said.

“We’re really trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible so that we see rare cases and that we're really able to keep the spread of the virus at a much [lower] level as possible.”

As of June 3, 49.5% of North Carolina’s adults are fully vaccinated, and 53.6% have received at least one dose, according to NCDHHS.

In order to reach herd immunity, a large percentage of a community has to become immune to the disease or vaccinated against a contagious disease. However, the percentage varies for every infectious disease.

There is still investigations underway to determine how long the COVID-19 vaccine will be effective against SARS-COV-2 variants, according to the CDC.

Since vaccines started in mid-December, there is a chance that those who have rolled up their sleeves will need a booster shot next year along with the flu shot.

“The level of protection seems to be holding up at that six-month mark,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director for infection and prevention at Atrium Health. “But we need to continue to follow how long that lasts, and certainly possibility that boosters may be needed come next year, wintertime or fall to maintain that level of protection like we do for the flu shot and things like that.”

It is still unclear on whether booster shots will be needed in the fall, however, “COVID-19 is still foreseeable in the future” according to Kansagra.

“Similar to influenza I still see it, you know, it's not like the measles, where we've achieved herd immunity and you see very few cases,” she said. “(COVID-19 is) something that will be endemic in our population, but we need to continue to reduce the spread of that and the best way to do that is the COVID vaccine.”

New normal for taking a vacation
With summer quickly approaching, Edwards said she may take a trip to Atlantic Beach or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her family.

“I’m still not a hundred percent comfortable with doing a lot of travel,” Edwards said. “Maybe a trip to the beach where they’re practicing social distancing as much as possible. But nowhere out of the state or [abroad].”

The executive order released last month by Gov. Roy Cooper permitted several things to open in the state, but there are still some mask mandates in some places such as at airports, bus stops, and train stops.

Vaccinated travelers do not have to self-quarantine or get tested two weeks before or after a trip to another state or country according to the CDC. A COVID-19 test is only required for vaccinated travelers if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms following their trip.

All concerts, indoor facilities, and outdoor festivals in the state no longer have capacity restrictions or seating arrangements for guests and can operate at full capacity again by following the health and standards of NCDHHS.

Even though restrictions have loosened at some businesses, masks are still encouraged as an extra precaution since vaccines are not 100% effective.
“There may be cases where it makes sense to wear that mask,” Passaretti said. “If you're in a larger group setting, going to a concert, things like that, even if you're fully vaccinated just because of clothes, nature, lots of people, and lots of things [are] kind of outside of your control.”

Looking back a year from now things have improved dramatically in society thanks to vaccines slowing the spread of the virus.

“We're in a way better place than we were,” Passaretti said. “I think every person vaccinated [in North Carolina] puts us in a better place.”
Aaliyah Bowden, who covers health for The Post, is a Report for America corps member.


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