Labor Day 2021: How to consider the safety of Covid-19
Unfortunately, this is happening at the same time as Covid-19 rates are rising. Rates of new coronavirus infections are higher than they have been since January. Hospitalizations are also at their highest level since January. In many parts of the United States, infections and hospitalizations are higher than they were during the Labor Day weekend in 2020.
How should people think about the safety of Covid-19 now, compared to last year? Is it safe to see family and friends? What if extended family members want to stay together in one house? What steps should they take to reduce the risk? And how does starting school affect our risk?
CNN: How should people think about their risk this Labor Day compared to the holidays last year?
Dr Leana Wen: Things are very different this Labor Day compared to last year for one main reason. We have vaccines that are safe and protect very well against severe Covid-19 disease. Unvaccinated people 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with severe Covid-19 than those vaccinated, Los Angeles County health officials said in a report released by the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -United.
However, vaccines are not 100% effective. The higher the infection rate in the community around you, the more likely you are to contract a revolutionary Covid-19 case. There is a good chance that you will get a mild infection even if you catch the virus, but some people will not want to get a breakthrough infection at all. Perhaps they are older, chronically ill, and even a mild infection could make them very sick. Or maybe they are living at home with unvaccinated children or immunocompromised people and they don’t want to pass the virus on to family members.
It makes sense that some people continue to be very careful even after being vaccinated and, for example, try to avoid gatherings indoors and always hide in indoor public places.
Unvaccinated people remain at high risk. This includes children under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated. They are probably more at risk this Labor Day compared to last year, due to the more contagious Delta variant that dominates in the United States, the high level of Covid-19 in many parts of the country and the behavior of many people who have let their guard down. Unvaccinated people should take all the precautions they took during this time last year, if not more.
CNN: Many families want to reunite on Labor Day. What’s the safest way to get together?
Magnifying glass: The outdoors remains the safest option for everyone, vaccinated or not. If there are unvaccinated people from different households mixing together – for example, if there are several young children getting together – they really should only get together outside. On the outside, I agree with people who don’t wear masks. The risk of transmission is much, much lower than indoors.
CNN: What if everyone got vaccinated? Can they meet inside?
Magnifying glass: It depends on each person’s medical situation and their tolerance for risk. You are much safer meeting indoors with people you know have been vaccinated. The risk is low, but it is not zero. If you are immunocompromised, you may choose to only see others on the outside. Another option is for everyone to reduce their risk for three days before meeting and then get tested. By reducing the risk, I mean not being with other groups inside and hiding in public for three days before the rally. This would further reduce the risks.
CNN: If there are families with unvaccinated children and everyone stays in the same house, would it be safer for everyone to get tested before they see each other?
Magnifying glass: Yes. I would always recommend at least three days of harm reduction followed by testing. It doesn’t completely eliminate the risk, but it does reduce the risk.
CNN: What if the kids have been to school then go see the family? Or if they start school right after the family reunion?
Magnifying glass: If children have been to school and the school follows strict guidelines according to CDC guidelines, the risk of transmission within the school is low. I’m less concerned with what happens at school than with what happens after school.
During the three days leading up to tests and meetings, please refrain from playing indoors and meeting with others. Your child should always attend school in person; just make sure they are always masked indoors during school.
Starting school after the holidays means that other children might have traveled or attended large gatherings. Once your child returns to school, it is even more important to follow all precautions during school, extracurricular activities and social activities to reduce the chances of contracting the virus from other children.
CNN: Is it safe to go to a restaurant, pool, or beach?
Magnifying glass: Anything on the outside will be safer than on the inside. An outdoor restaurant where one can be away from others will be much safer than an indoor restaurant, which is considered a high risk environment. I urge unvaccinated people to refrain from dining inside a restaurant or bar, where they may be surrounded by unmasked and unvaccinated people.
An outdoor pool and the beach are generally fairly safe settings. The coronavirus is not spread by water, and the only concern would be if there are so many people that you can’t keep your distance. Use common sense here. If the pool or beach is so crowded that you can’t move around easily and keep a distance of 6 feet, consider coming back when it’s less crowded. If there is a small, cluttered section, wear a mask on the spot, then remove the mask once you are about to lay down.
CNN: Any travel advice for the holidays?
In general, I think it’s good advice for everyone to think about their plans and assess their risks. I also think there are different levels of risk associated with travel and ways to further reduce that risk. That said, it is late enough before the holidays to tell, for example, families with young unvaccinated children that they should abandon their plans. And while it’s best to get vaccinated before travel, there isn’t enough time to achieve full vaccination status before Labor Day if you start this week.
If you are traveling by plane, train, bus, or other form of transportation where you might be surrounded by unvaccinated people, I highly recommend that you wear a high quality mask – ideally an N95 or KN95 mask. Try not to remove your mask, including to eat or drink, unless you absolutely have to. Also make sure to be very careful at your destination; too often people worry about what is happening in transit, to let their guard down and go out to restaurants inside and see their friends and family without thinking about the risks of these activities.
Be especially careful and know the risk to unvaccinated people, including children too young to be vaccinated.