After a brutal winter, the Omicron wave is finally easing up. Cases are plummeting, and people aren’t waiting hours in line for a last-minute COVID test anymore. Of course, this lull might not last forever. If there’s one thing Delta and Omicron taught us, it’s that this virus has a tendency to come back with a vengeance, often about two months after the end of the last surge. But after two years of constant disruptions and living in fear, we’re tired. So why not take this opportunity to return to a temporary normal (or as much normalcy that’s possible in a pandemic world), whether it’s eating indoors again or seeing relatives before another variant hits? The experts even (circumspectly) have your back.
Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and a leading national voice on the COVID-19 pandemic, recently wrote a Twitter thread explaining that people need a break from the strictest of pandemic precautions, even if just for a little while. “During future surges, we may need to ask people to pull back or mask up again. Preserving people’s willingness to do things is critical. We should use the reprieve to prepare,” he wrote. And on the individual scale, you should fill up your family’s tank so they’re mentally prepared to hunker down if, or when, the next surge strikes.
Fatherly asked experts how safe it is to resume daily activities — especially if you’re a parent with children too young to be vaccinated — and what factors they should consider when deciding whether to go out and have a little more fun.
When is it okay to start relaxing your family’s COVID precautions?
The experts who spoke to Fatherly agree there is no exact timeline on when people should “return to normal.” Rather, families can start relaxing COVID measures now if they’re comfortable with the level of risk they’re taking on. But they shouldn’t have a YOLO mentality — completely throwing caution to the wind now that cases are low. The pandemic is far from over, and it may be harder to adjust back if another variant appears and you have to mask up again if you drop all precautions now.
Charles Bailey, M.D., medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, says people shouldn’t feel like they have to cram in every activity right now, because the chances of another shutdown are unlikely. “COVID is possibly going endemic instead of being eradicated altogether, so it’s probably better to ease into this new normal rather than undertake riskier behaviors with the anticipation of another shutdown or surge,” he says.
What factors should you consider before going out?
Before planning activities, check the levels of coronavirus transmission in your community. COVID case numbers differ across the U.S., and what’s relatively safe to do in one area could be dangerous in another. The CDC has a map that tells you whether your community is facing high, medium, or low levels of COVID and whether you should wear a mask when you go out. Bailey advises you also look at how much of the surrounding population is fully vaccinated or if mask mandates are in place before you spend time indoors in public.
What if you have a kid under 5 who can’t get vaccinated?
How quickly you move forward with your life should depend on the COVID risk to yourself and your family.
“If you have a child with cancer, your situation is very different from a family with kids aged 10 and 11 who are young and healthy. It’s not fair to say, ‘Here’s when everyone should start to move around freely, because everybody’s not the same,’” says Arunima Agarwal, M.D., a pediatrician in New York.
Parents with children under 5 should be more wary because they’re not eligible for the COVID vaccine and are at a higher risk than vaccinated children of catching the virus and getting sick from it. This doesn’t mean your child has to be trapped in their house. You just have to be more careful about where you take them and who they interact with.
“Since the vaccine still isn’t approved for children under 5, everyone else in the house should be vaccinated to help protect the child. Ideally, interactions should be with other families who are also fully vaccinated,” Agarwal says. “Even if you have a small baby, if everyone in the house is vaccinated, you should feel a bit more comfortable taking them out.”
Agarwal emphasizes you can still have fun, but just take precautions while doing it. If your child has no underlying medical conditions, it should be okay to take them to outdoor activities such as the carnival or zoo. “Vaccinated families can move a little more freely than before because the vaccine opened up to kids five and up, and that’s a lot more people protected than six months ago.”
The bottom line is that COVID is not going away, but we don’t have to press pause on life like in 2020. Bailey says we are better prepared than last year with vaccines and effective antiviral treatments that mitigate the risk of severe infection. “While the virus is changing, our capability of dealing with it has also changed,” he says.
That means you can take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and go have some fun. In fact, it may be for the best, so you can recharge in case you need to layer on more precautions in the future if another surge hits.