I invited my 86-year-old father for a visit.
He lives in the Chicago area, near where I grew up. He has been holed up in his senior center, which has done an amazing job of keeping residents safe. He tells me only two residents of the independent living area, where he has an apartment, have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Several more in the memory care unit were also stricken.
While we have been talking on the phone regularly, and had the occasional video visit, we have not physically seen each other since November, 2019.
The CDC had recommended no unnecessary travel since the national emergency related to the pandemic was invoked in March, 2020—until this past week. On May 19, CDC updated guidance that fully vaccinated (two weeks after last dose of series) may travel freely in the United States, without need for travel-related testing or quarantine. For those who remain unvaccinated, CDC recommends delaying travel until vaccinated, and if traveling, to test and quarantine related to travel. For those traveling internationally, testing before returning to the US is still recommended.
This is great news for those of us with family spread across the United States. I recognize that many people have been ignoring this advice for months, but the recommendation was grounded in worry that the more infectious variants, such as the B.1.1.7 variant that pummeled Minnesota in late winter/early spring, would be resistant to the vaccine. The good news—the vaccines have been shown to be remarkably robust in protecting against these variants of concern.
The travel news was overshadowed by the big news that CDC was no longer recommending mask wearing for fully immunized people—with a few caveats. For people without any health conditions affecting their immune system—or living or working in certain settings—life can return to normal. No restriction on dining, socializing or other activities we enjoy with friends. However, there are still setting where masks are required, even if fully immunized, such as travel, or certain businesses. Some locations with a lot of disease activity may wish to retain their mask recommendations as well.
While most people are rightfully ecstatic to be shedding their masks, for some of our community, this recommendation will raise anxiety. As we know that some will not wear masks, even if not immunized, the risk of spread increases to those who cannot mount an immune response, even if fully vaccinated. Those people will be living on the left side of the infographic above, while the rest of us live on the right side. Some of us wish the CDC had given some guidance to lift mask restrictions when community transmission had dropped below a certain level.
While COVID-19 may not be done with us, I am ready to be done with COVID-19. I expect another surge in about 5-6 weeks, as the mask mandates are lifted, and unmasked/unvaccinated people (yes, I know they are out there) start to spread virus more widely. I also expect that the next surge will be smaller than the one we just experienced.
For those of us who are fully vaccinated, life is returning to normal with respect to travel and getting together with friends and family.
It has been a bad relationship with you, COVID-19, for the last 17 months.
“Time for me to fly
Oh, I've got to set myself free
Time for me to fly
And that's just how it's got to be
I know it hurts to say goodbye
But it's time for me to fly (fly)”