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Are We There Yet? What Return to Normal Looks Like

Group of friends removing face masks

Life certainly looks different than it did pre-pandemic. Here are some questions and answers that might help as our new normal evolves.

Everyone is ready to get back to a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. With COVID-19 cases and deaths declining as vaccinations increase, employers are making plans to bring workers back into office buildings. But there are concerns about when and where to wear masks, how to enforce social distancing and if people will need a booster shot.

At Tryon Medical Partners, our patients approach the doctors they trust with their most pressing coronavirus concerns. We have compiled the questions we hear most often, with answers from Dr. Marianne Carim, an internal medicine specialist at Tryon Uptown


I’m vaccinated, should I still wear a face mask?

The CDC has shared guidelines for fully vaccinated people, meaning those two who are two weeks past their single-dose vaccine or two weeks past the second dose in a two-dose series. Vaccinated individuals can resume activities without wearing a mask or socially distancing, but it’s important to note specific guidelines, like those required by workplaces or local businesses.

The CDC continues to recommend wearing face masks in specific settings like hospitals, doctors’ offices and on public transportation. Tryon requires face masks in their offices and strongly recommends people get vaccinated wherever and however they can.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you have some protection, but can still contract the virus and develop symptoms,” says Dr. Carim. “We should continue to practice safety precautions when in public spaces.”


What about virus variants?

Physicians, researchers and other health officials are still working to understand the full impact of COVID-19 variants. The good news is that current data suggests that COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against most variants currently spreading in the United States. Still, variants can cause illness in some people even after they are fully vaccinated.


Will I need a booster shot?

Researchers are still studying COVID-19 to determine if booster shots will be necessary. It is typical for any virus to mutate, and this could mean that new versions of the vaccine will be developed, similar to the process we have in place for the flu.

“The influenza virus is different from the coronavirus — we know it changes annually, and every year we must get a vaccine for the new strain of flu,” Dr. Carim says. “We don’t know if we will need boosters for coronavirus yet. We’re learning how COVID-19 replicates, which strains are present and how long immunity from vaccination lasts in real time.”  


Is it safe to dine indoors?

The good news about COVID-19 vaccines is that they are highly effective at preventing people from contracting the virus and, even if they do, at preventing people from getting very sick. Those who are vaccinated should feel comfortable following CDC guidelines about resuming their previous activities, including dining out, unmasked.

Still, no vaccine is 100% effective so, if you still have concerns, Dr. Carim shares several precautions to ease anxiety.

“I’d recommend that people still choose an outdoor patio for dining where tables are spaced apart to reduce their chances of contracting the virus,” Dr. Carim says. “I suggest choosing restaurants that have COVID-safe precautions in place where staff are still wearing face masks to protect themselves and diners.”


What about concerts and sporting events?

If people are going to attend a live event, they should keep their group small, choose an outdoor venue where ventilation is better and distancing from others is possible.

“People get excited at concerts and sporting events. They scream and cheer for their band or team, sending respiratory droplets into the air,” Dr. Carim says. “It’s hard to know whether you’ll be in close proximity with someone who has the virus, increasing your chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19.”

For this reason, those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to mask.


What about travel?

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people are permitted to travel, but should follow local guidance and the CDC’s requirements and recommendations. For example, even fully vaccinated people will be required to wear a mask when using public transportation, including on planes and in airports. 

If traveling, people should plan ahead using a pre-travel checklist including carrying a copy of their vaccination card with travel documents, and expecting long lines, crowded airports and busy transit hubs.


What precautions should I take as I return to work?

Most office spaces were built as open concept, and have cubicles and touch-down desks with no physical boundaries. Employers are working to incorporate dividers, implement safety precautions and provide workers with confidence in their return to the office. If this applies to you, be sure to follow employer policies and the recommended precautions when in dining halls, conference rooms or workstations where a safe distance cannot be maintained.


How should I socialize with unvaccinated people?

Everyone has different anxiety, risk and comfort levels when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have friends and family that have yet to be vaccinated and still want to gather, suggest an outdoor hangout where social distancing is possible.

“If I’m socializing with friends and I know everybody around me is vaccinated, I feel much more comfortable removing the face mask,” Dr. Carim says. “But if I’m in a room full of strangers, many of whom probably aren’t vaccinated, then I would keep my face mask in place and proceed with caution.”

One thing is for sure. We won’t be returning to life as we knew it in January 2020 anytime soon, and a new normal is upon us. If you want more information, check out these post-vaccine do’s and don’ts, and if you have concerns, reach out to your Tryon doctor in person, via a scheduled virtual visit or immediately through Virtual Urgent Care. Alongside your trusted physician and with expert information we will define a healthy, comfortable new normal together.