What can I do in Georgia now that I am fully vaccinated?

Lendahl Lagaly, left, and Duncan Anderson take a selfie next to the status of Phil Niekro before the Atlanta Braves home opener. As more people get vaccinated and the number of new infections decline, people look forward to more normalcy. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Lendahl Lagaly, left, and Duncan Anderson take a selfie next to the status of Phil Niekro before the Atlanta Braves home opener. As more people get vaccinated and the number of new infections decline, people look forward to more normalcy. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

You are fully vaccinated and ready to ease back into normal life. But what does this even mean?

It doesn’t necessarily mean you can let loose like it’s 2019, but being fully vaccinated does mean most activities will pose a lower risk now.

“Big picture is persons who are vaccinated, because the vaccine is so incredibly effective, not only in studies but real life, can, in many ways, return to pre-pandemic activities,” said Dr. Jay Varkey, associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new guidance that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outside, except if they’re attending a crowded event. Fully vaccinated people also can gather indoors in small groups with others who are fully vaccinated, without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, the agency said.

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Deciding whether to resume certain activities is not always clear-cut, though, and will have to do with each individual’s risk tolerance.

“How we interacted in December 2019 compared to our baseline now is completely different, and it has a lot to do with comfort,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, Augusta University’s chief of infectious diseases. “I call it the ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ because we’re at a different baseline than we were before COVID.”

Remember, you don’t reach full vaccination until at least two weeks after getting your second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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Here’s a look at frequently asked questions about navigating life after vaccination.

Braves employees Jamiya Brinson, left, and Kaitlynne Grize help facilitate the Atlanta Braves' free vaccination clinic at Truist Park earlier this month. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Braves employees Jamiya Brinson, left, and Kaitlynne Grize help facilitate the Atlanta Braves' free vaccination clinic at Truist Park earlier this month. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Do I still have to wear a mask while shopping?

CDC says it’s not time to stop wearing masks altogether, at least not yet, especially indoors. There are still many unvaccinated people, including children too young to get the shots, and it’s hard to know who is vaccinated and who is not. So experts still recommend that everyone mask up when indoors in public spaces.

Can I hang out indoors mask-free with my unvaccinated friends?

The CDC says to limit your indoor interactions with unvaccinated people to just one other household at a time. The visit can include children, but all should be at low risk for severe COVID-19.

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Can we shake hands with those we’re meeting?

It’s OK if both people are vaccinated because research has thus far shown the virus doesn’t travel on surfaces, including hands, Vazquez says. If someone hasn’t been vaccinated, you may want to refrain from shaking hands out of an abundance of caution.

Fans stand socially distanced during a rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of an opening day baseball game. The Braves will soon return to full capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fans stand socially distanced during a rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of an opening day baseball game. The Braves will soon return to full capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

If I am fully vaccinated, is it OK to go to a sporting event?

Experts say based on what we know now, a fully vaccinated person going to a sporting event in Atlanta would be considered “relatively safe.”

But Dr. Michael Eriksen, founding dean of Georgia State’s School of Public Health, said it’s important to remember that while the vaccines are incredible, none provide 100% protection, and there are still questions about how long immunity lasts and about how well the vaccines cover evolving mutations. So going to a game doesn’t come with zero risks.

It would be safest for vaccinated people to be grouped together, he said. (Note: while some other sports teams, such as Los Angeles Dodgers, are grouping vaccinated fans, the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta United have not announced any plans to do this.) The Atlanta Hawks are considering having a vaccinated section for fans.

Those who are unvaccinated will face a significant risk of exposure to the coronavirus based on the sheer number of people crowded together. For those who plan to go to a game, Eriksen recommends wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

What about bringing unvaccinated kids to a game?

With only about a third of adults in Georgia fully vaccinated, it’s best if kids under 16, who do not yet have access to vaccines, don’t go to games. If they do go, experts said they should wear masks and maintain social distancing. It’s also best for them to sit and interact with only vaccinated adults. While kids may pose more of a risk of transmitting the virus to unvaccinated people than getting seriously ill from being infected, children can get very sick from the virus.

What about going to a public swimming pool?

While coronavirus can spread between people via respiratory droplets, the CDC isn’t aware of any evidence about the coronavirus spreading through the water in pools.

Chlorine is a disinfectant, so the primary risk is going to be close contact with someone. Experts recommend using outdoor pools and being careful not to be too crowded with other people. Again, people who are unvaccinated would be at much higher risk than those who are vaccinated.

Remember, don’t wear cloth masks in the water: They are difficult to breathe through when wet. Do wear a mask when changing, however, and minimize the time in changing rooms, which are often crowded and not well-ventilated.

Are playdates OK if the adults are vaccinated but the kids aren’t?

Outdoor playdates are safer. Varkey encourages play dates to take place outside and says children can play together at a park or playground with “minimal risk.” Indoor playdates, he said, “are harder,” and he encourages parents to have an honest conversation about risk tolerance.

“What makes me more concerned is going into a packed dinner with multiple families with some vaccinated and some unvaccinated and there happens to be one mildly sick child (with the coronavirus) and it turns into a super spreader event,” he said.

What about going to a gym?

Those who are fully vaccinated are at relatively low risk at a gym. But for the unvaccinated, gyms are one of the highest-risk settings because of the virus’s ability to easily spread between those who are exercising, breathing heavily in poorly ventilated spaces.

If you do go back to the gym, it is recommended that you wear a mask.

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Go to an indoor restaurant?

Indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars is riskier than some other places for multiple reasons, according to the CDC: People from different households are gathering in the same space, physical distancing can be hard to maintain, and diners have to take off masks to eat and drink.

Ways to lower the risk are to go with outdoor seating and avoid busy times of day or night.

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, offers this advice: “If you’re going to be in very close proximity to other people and there are lots of diners packed together, that’s when I would try to limit the time as much as possible.”

Even so, vaccinated people can make it work dining indoor and be at relatively low risk.

If you’re fully vaccinated and “can be separated from others by at least 6 feet and you’re dining with somebody also fully vaccinated,” Wen said, “I wouldn’t have a limitation to that time period.”

Eriksen said people should opt for dining outdoors whenever possible. Otherwise, he added, diners eating indoors should sit by an open window or under a ceiling fan. “Ventilation matters,” he said.

He also encourages people to patronize establishments that require their workers wear masks, even if they are no longer required by the governor’s orders.

Is it OK to have someone doing repair work in our homes if we’re vaccinated but they may not be?

That is fine. You don’t need to shake hands, and you can conduct social distancing in your home.

If we are fully vaccinated but get exposed to COVID by someone who is not, should we quarantine?

The CDC says if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.

Is it safe now to use crowded public transportation?

Vazquez recommends keeping at least 3 feet of distance and wearing a face covering on buses and trains.

Can I hug my unvaccinated grandchildren?

Yes! Once grandparents are fully vaccinated, experts say they can hug unvaccinated grandkids when those children are all living in one household and are not at high risk for severe disease.

Is it safe to fly domestically?

Recently-updated CDC guidance states that fully vaccinated people may travel more freely within the United States. Travelers do not need to get COVID testing before or after travel and do not need to quarantine, unless required by local or state authorities.

What about international travel?

If you are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine, you should get tested three to five 3-5 after travel. You do not need to get tested before leaving the United States unless your destination requires it.

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