A Q&A with physician Lorna Fitzpatrick, VP of medical affairs at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
Q. Once a person is fully vaccinated, can they stop wearing their mask?
A. Not yet. The vaccines are highly effective, but we’re still learning how long they can protect people. So, until we know more, the recommendations for fully vaccinated people remain clear: continue to wear masks in public, and while visiting with unvaccinated people from different households and those with a high risk of severe COVID-19. When in doubt, wear your mask.
Q. What is the recommendation on gatherings?
A. When you’re fully vaccinated, you can visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at a low risk of severe COVID-19. Small groups of fully vaccinated people can be together without wearing a mask and without social distancing. When you’re visiting with people and you are unsure of their vaccine status, you’ll want to wear your mask and practice social distancing. An outdoor visit is best, as it allows for better air flow.
Q. When can family members enter nursing homes to visit their loved ones?
A. In New York state, many restrictions on visits to loved one in nursing homes have recently been lifted. Communication is always key, so touch base with the nursing home first and check local restrictions.
Q. Is there an update on when kids can get vaccinated? Does this affect them returning to school?
A. All residents of New York ages 16 and older are eligible for a vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for ages 16+ and the other vaccines are currently being tested to make sure they are safe and effective. As a pediatrician and mother, I know how important it is for children to return to school for both their social and educational development. Once approved, these vaccines will be one more tool to keep our children and teachers safe in the classroom.
Q. Many larger events have been postponed — weddings, graduation parties, and concerts to name a few. What is the advice for these situations?
A. Guidance varies by state, so be sure to check local rules. Although progress is being made in the fight against COVID-19, personally I feel it is not yet the time to participate in large gatherings. We have seen larger gatherings that have led to outbreaks of the virus, and we still must be careful to prevent spread, especially to vulnerable loved ones. Keeping gatherings small and following the guidelines will help us to stay safe.
Q. If I’m fully vaccinated, can I travel?
A. Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19, so people who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States. Negative tests are not needed unless the destination requires it, nor is self-quarantining. However, still follow the recommendations of wearing a mask, washing your hands often, and social distancing.