Questions about the coronavirus if you’re out and about
I'm vaccinated. Is it still risky to go out?
It depends in part on whether you are fully vaccinated — meaning at least two weeks have passed since you received the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks since you had the one and only shot of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine. This period after your final shot allows your body to build robust defenses against the coronavirus.
Another key factor is where you live — particularly if your area has "substantial" or "high" levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community. (Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker.) If virus transmission rates are high in your county, the CDC advises fully vaccinated people, along with unvaccinated people, to wear a mask in public indoor settings.
As the coronavirus variant called Delta has become dominant in the U.S., research has shown that fully vaccinated people can catch COVID-19 — though the risk of such "breakthrough" cases is far lower than the risk of infection for unvaccinated people. Also, in rare instances, vaccinated people can be contagious, the CDC noted recently in updating its mask guidelines for those who are vaccinated.
In areas with low levels of coronavirus transmission, fully vaccinated people generally don't need masks, indoors or out, with a few exceptions, according to the CDC. You might decide to wear a mask in public anyway, especially if you or someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is not fully vaccinated or has a medical condition that increases risk for severe disease.
Masks are still required on public transportation (unless it's "open air," like the deck of a ferry) and in transportation venues such as airports and bus stations. Some sites such as health care facilities and businesses may also still require masks and social distancing.
Meanwhile, remain alert for COVID-19 symptoms. If you've been with someone who has or may have COVID-19, get tested three to five days later and wear a mask in public indoor settings for two weeks, or until you have a negative test result.
What if I'm not vaccinated?
The CDC urges you with all its might to get vaccinated promptly, and to wear a mask in public until you are fully vaccinated. With the new, more virulent Delta variant of the coronavirus, vaccination is more important than ever, the agency says.
Without vaccination, you remain at greater risk of serious illness. So while you remain unvaccinated, you should practice COVID-19 precautions, including masking, and avoid high-risk situations such as crowded indoor events, the CDC says.
Indoor spaces are riskier because it can be harder to keep distance between people and there is less ventilation. When a person with COVID-19 has been indoors, the coronavirus can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.
Your risk also depends on factors such as whether:
- COVID-19 is spreading widely in your community
- You are likely to be in close contact with others who might be sick or who aren’t wearing masks
- You need to take public transportation
- A lot of people will be present
- You take everyday precautions to protect yourself against the virus
- You are older
- Whether you have any medical conditions that put you at greater risk of severe illness
The CDC has more information on having safer gatherings. You can learn more about COVID-19’s spread and severity in your community from local and state health department websites. For a deeper dive into vaccination rates and the coronavirus’s impact in your community, visit the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker or the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
In most areas of the U.S., vaccination is readily available. If you haven't been vaccinated yet, visit vaccines.gov to find a provider near you. And if you feel sick, stay home and evaluate whether you might have COVID-19.
Do I really need to wear a mask?
If you're not fully vaccinated, then yes, you should wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
Even if you're fully vaccinated, that same advice applies if you live in an area where community transmission of the coronavirus is "substantial" or "high." (See the CDC's COVID Data Tracker to check on your community.)
Wearing masks properly can substantially reduce the amount of virus indoors. Masks are required in most cases on public transportation as well as at transportation hubs such as airports and bus terminals. Also, some cities and states require masks to be worn at least in some cases in public settings (AARP is tracking mask mandates by state).
Here’s how to wear a mask, and how to safely take it off. But don’t wear a mask with a valve or vent, the CDC says, because it won’t prevent you from spreading the virus to others.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t wear a mask?
Masks should not be worn by:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Anyone who has trouble breathing
- Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance
Can I launder my cloth mask in the washing machine?
You can wash it by machine or by hand. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands any time you remove your mask. If the mask is wet or dirty, store it in a plastic bag and wash it as soon as you can.
Is it safe for my child to go back to school?
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidance for safe schools including universal masking; strongly recommends in-person learning as the best option for most children; and urges parents to have their eligible children (those 12 and older) vaccinated against COVID-19.
In July, the CDC updated public health guidelines addressing schools and child care programs, including strategies to reduce COVID-19's spread and maintain safety. The agency also called for all teachers, school staff, students and school visitors to wear masks, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Regarding your child, there are various things to consider, including how widespread coronavirus infection is in your community (check your local health department website and the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker), your child’s medical risk and education and transportation needs, preventive measures taken by the school, and your child-care and family circumstances (for instance, if you live with someone at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness).
The CDC offers a comprehensive decision-making tool to help you sort through such concerns.
Can my kids participate safely in organized sports?
There’s no easy answer — instead, there’s a lot to think about. The CDC has outlined various considerations in assessing risk for youth sports — for instance, defining a range of activities from lowest risk (doing drills at home) to greater risk (competition within a single team) to highest risk (full competition between teams from different areas). Parents should also consider how high rates of COVID-19 transmission are in their community, whether the sport is indoors, how close players are to each other and for how long, how much equipment is shared and the age of the players, among many other factors.
The American Academy for Pediatrics offers tips for keeping kids safe in sports, starting with vaccination for those 12 and older.
As an essential worker, how can I make sure I’m following the latest safety advice?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC provide extensive, occupation-specific guidance to help protect workers. But remember: Vaccination is considered the most effective strategy to prevent COVID-19. And of course, follow standard safety advice about wearing a mask, physical distancing, regular handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting workspaces.
Can I visit family and friends?
Yes. But if you're not fully vaccinated, choose the safest way to do so — for instance, a small, outdoor gathering — and you should wear a mask if others there are unvaccinated.
Also, for any event, to help protect your family and friends, don’t go if you feel sick or might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Is it safe to go to the grocery store?
Experts recommend minimizing in-person visits to grocery stores or other stores selling essential goods. If possible, place an order for delivery or for pickup outside.
If you need to go into the store, take the usual COVID-19 precautions, including wearing a mask as recommended and staying at least 6 feet away from others. Go during off-hours, when the store is less likely to be crowded. (Some stores have special hours for people at risk).
The CDC also advises that you disinfect your cart, touch only items you plan to buy, sanitize your hands when you enter and leave the store, and wash them thoroughly when you get home.
How about going to restaurants?
Generally, compared with eating inside at a restaurant, it's safer if you can have meals delivered or pick them up curbside, or eat outdoors at a restaurant where tables are at least 6 feet apart.
I have all kinds of questions about travel. Where do I start?
You’re not alone. From cruise safety to airport worries, the CDC breaks down the guidance. To start, get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can. Avoid ocean and river cruises and any discretionary or non-urgent travel if you're not fully vaccinated. If you opt for a cruise, get a COVID-19 test one to three days before the trip and another three to five days after, monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days afterward, and self-isolate and test again if you develop symptoms. (If you're not fully vaccinated you should also self-quarantine for seven to 10 days after the trip, even if you tested negative.)
If you’d like to travel in the U.S., the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker can show you which states have high rates of coronavirus cases and deaths (look at the “per 100,000” figure). Also, check local and state health department websites. If you're fully vaccinated and traveling within the U.S., you won't need to get tested before or after your trip.
Many other countries have COVID-testing requirements or other restrictions, or even an outright ban on visitors from the U.S. The State Department provides country-by-country information, and the CDC has assessments of COVID-19 risk for different countries. To board an international flight to the U.S., you will still need to provide documentation of a negative test result or that you've recovered from coronavirus infection.
What about routine medical, dental or vision appointments if I’m not sick?
Plan for you and your family to check in soon with your health care professionals to take stock of your overall health, routine health care needs like immunizations, and management of any chronic conditions you may have like high blood pressure(link opens in new window) or diabetes(link opens in new window).
Keep in mind that the health care landscape has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic. Some clinics and offices might have closed. Most others have developed careful protocols — often posted on their websites — to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These can include closing or changing the setup of the waiting room, requiring use of hand sanitizers and face masks, and asking about symptoms beforehand or checking your temperature on arrival.
Contact the health care professional you’d like to visit about your health care needs and whether a telemedicine or in-person appointment is needed. (The American Heart Association offers tips on reconnecting with your health care team.)
Probably not until he or she is vaccinated. The more people your child interacts with, and the longer time spent doing so, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread, the CDC says. So reducing the number of people unvaccinated children interact with can reduce the risk of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
How do I stay safe at the gym?
If it's been awhile since you went to the gym, we have advice for easing back in.
Be sure to follow CDC masking guidance, even if you're fully vaccinated. If you're not yet fully vaccinated, find out if the gym has implemented prevention measures such as plexiglass barriers, mask requirements and closing of shared locker space. Look for outside exercise options or virtual classes, and limit attendance at indoor group classes, while maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask whenever possible.
Also, go at off-times, and change and shower at home.
Open windows where available in the gym to increase air flow. Wipe down shared equipment and avoid using items that can’t be adequately sanitized, such as resistance bands. And of course, stay home if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.