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Good news! Older adults may be able to start relaxing after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s the latest on what’s now safe for you — and those around you.
Vaccinations among older adults have hit their stride. As of press time, the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows at least 75% of the 65-and-older crowd are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
If you’re part of this group, you may be wondering if you can toss your mask and stop social distancing. Here’s what has — and hasn’t — changed now that you’ve gotten your vaccine.
Stay safe in public
According to the CDC, you’re not fully vaccinated until two weeks after your final COVID-19 vaccine. Once you are, socializing with other vaccinated people without wearing a mask or distance poses minimal risk.
On May 13, the CDC eased its indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people. In the recommendations, the CDC says the risk of vaccinated people spreading or catching COVID-19 is low. That means, according to the CDC, that fully vaccinated people can safely stop wearing masks and physically distancing inside in most places. There are some important exceptions, however.
For example, if you have a weak immune system, such as from cancer treatment or from medications that weaken the immune system, the CDC says you may not be fully protected. In this case, you should talk to your health care provider before skipping your mask when out in public.
In addition, businesses and venues may continue to require masks and distancing, regardless of vaccination status. This is because it’s impossible for businesses to know who has or hasn’t received the vaccine. Different state and local regulations may also continue to be in place.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution and keep practicing safety measures when you’re in public, says Eudene Harry, M.D., an emergency medicine physician based in Orlando.
Attend to your health
A national survey by Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute earlier this year found that fear of the virus has led many people to delay medical care. The survey found that 67% of Americans thought twice before making a health appointment when COVID-19 rates were high in their area.
If you’ve been fully vaccinated, talk to your provider to see if you need to schedule any health screenings or follow-up appointments you may have put off during the pandemic. Even if you’re not vaccinated, health care providers urge you not to delay things like your annual wellness visit or recommended screenings.
If you’re not ready for a lot of in-person contact, virtual visits are a good option for many health care concerns. Your UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage plan allows you to meet with a network doctor virtually — using your computer, tablet or smartphone. Check your plan website for coverage details.
Go back to the gym
The CDC has also given fully vaccinated individuals the green light to go back to the gym or indoor fitness classes without a mask. Just remember that you may still need to follow COVID-19-related safety measures that your gym or local government has in place to protect those who haven’t had their vaccine yet.
“If asked, wear your mask, clean your equipment and keep your distance from others,” says Dr. Harry.
And enjoying a walk outside and other outdoor fitness activities are still great ways to stay in shape while staying safe.
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If you’ve been longing to see friends and family in person, here’s some good news. The CDC says it’s safe to start visiting. There is a caveat, though.
“A big part of the population is not vaccinated. While vaccines seem to reduce the ability of the virus to spread, there is still a possibility of passing the virus to at-risk people,” Dr. Harry says.
For the good of others, be choosy about who you visit. When deciding whom to see, Dr. Harry says to ask yourself a few questions:
Is everyone fully vaccinated? If yes, masks are not necessary and close contact is OK.
Is anyone at risk of severe COVID-19 disease symptoms or complications? The CDC says it’s safe for those who are fully vaccinated to keep their masks off for social gatherings of all sizes — even if there are some people there who have not had their vaccine. However, if anyone at the gathering is at risk of severe disease or complications, wear a mask and keep your distance for their protection.
Is it a large gathering? Fully vaccinated individuals are clear to attend weddings, sporting events, concerts and other large events without masks, according to the new CDC guidelines. However, many venues may require masks and distancing for all, regardless of vaccination status.
Hug your loved ones
Keeping distant from friends and family has been tough. Thankfully, it may be OK to stop physical distancing once you’ve been vaccinated. As long as your kids, grandkids and other loved ones are also fully vaccinated, go ahead and give them that hug, reports the CDC.
There are even times when a fully vaccinated person can hug a loved one, including young grandchildren under age 12, who hasn’t received a vaccine: The CDC says it’s fine to embrace as long as the unvaccinated person is not at risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Still a little wary? Dr. Harry says those are the times to pop on your mask — just to be safe.
Get your hair cut
If you been avoiding your hair salon or barber shop and are longing to freshen up your look — now you can. According to the CDC, your risk of catching the virus in indoor spaces like hair salons is low.
However, unvaccinated customers and workers are still at risk. Businesses may still ask everyone — vaccinated or not — to follow safety measures. If asked, wear your mask and follow any other instructions to keep everyone safe.
Shop in person
Grocery pickup and delivery have proven to be convenient ways to shop while staying safe. But there’s something satisfying about picking out your own produce and baked goods.
If you’ve been using only pickup or delivery for your groceries or other necessities, you may be ready to head back inside the store. The CDC says this type of outing is also safe for fully vaccinated people. Again, be sure to wear your mask if the store or local guidelines require it.
Make responsible travel plans
Travel is easier — and safer — once you’ve been vaccinated. According to the CDC, vaccinated folks can now travel anywhere in the U.S. without taking a test or quarantining, unless testing is required by local, state or territorial health officials.
International travel may not be as easy. Some locations have fewer restrictions than others. The CDC offers a full list of travel health notices on their website (www.cdc.gov; search “Travel Planner”). If you have any questions about your destination of choice, check the CDC list before booking any flights.
If you do leave the country, keep this in mind. The United States still requires everyone, including vaccinated citizens, to present a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the U.S. The CDC also recommends all travelers returning to the U.S. get another test 3-5 days after an international trip — vaccinated or not.
Continue practicing the three W’s when you travel — Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance.
Remember airlines still require everyone to keep their masks on for the entire flight, and the CDC agrees. The guidelines still recommend all people — vaccinated or not — wear a mask when traveling. This applies to flying as well as travel by bus, train or other public transportation.
“After all, they have no way of knowing who is and isn’t fully vaccinated,” says Dr. Harry. “The goal is to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Questions about COVID-19 vaccines or testing?
We’ve gathered important information about vaccine access and testing services in one place — including answers to your most frequently asked questions. Find it all at our COVID-19 Resource Center .
Get tested if symptoms pop up
There’s always a chance of testing positive for COVID-19 even after you’ve been fully vaccinated. “Remember, vaccines aren’t 100% effective,” Dr. Harry says. “Nothing is.”
However, if symptoms do appear, being fully vaccinated means you’re less likely to experience the kind of symptoms that have led to hospitalizations, she explains.
Be sure to get tested if you notice any signs of COVID-19, including fever or chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches or a loss of taste or smell. It’s important to self-quarantine if you test positive, so that you don’t spread the virus to others.
The big takeaway, says Dr. Harry, is that being fully vaccinated means you’re on a path to resuming many of your familiar — and missed! — routines. Keep your guard up, but enjoy this new phase.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked any time you’ll be in public. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, this means layering a disposable surgical mask underneath a snug-fitting cloth mask or placing a mask fitter over your cloth mask to ensure a tight fit. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department.
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