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It’s Not Over Yet: Some COVID Safety Precautions Remain Necessary

a crowd of people A mostly unmasked crowd cheers during the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division redeployment ceremony June 8, 2021 at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Raider Brigade was the first BCT in the Army to resume major training events, complete its deployment preparations and deploy in a COVID-19 environment (Photo by: Army Sgt. Reva Catholic, 3rd Infantry Division).

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Re-engaging with our friends, families and neighbors is an important part of moving onward from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those who are fully vaccinated, the vaccine's strong protection against the virus can mean a return to normalcy like picnics and family reunions, school, sports and dinner parties even hugs and kisses all those activities that we’ve missed since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Yet the risks of COVID-19 persist, and some continued precautions will be necessary for some individuals, like adults who may remain unvaccinated, children too young for the vaccine and people who may have compromised immune systems.

Individuals should consider their own unique circumstances and evaluate what safety measures are needed.

"Masks are still appropriate in non-safe places, just as if you were going into war when you need your helmet and other personal protective equipment. A mask is part of your safety equipment," said Dr. David Hrncir, medical director, Central Vaccine Safety Hub, Defense Health Agency Immunizations Healthcare Division.

While research shows that full vaccination does provide a very high level of protection against the virus, some people who are fully vaccinated may prefer to continue precautions.

Jennifer Akin, a MHS beneficiary, stated that she still fears for the health of her son, who will soon turn six, and is therefore not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidance.

"Now that I'm fully-vaccinated I feel safe, but I am concerned about my son contracting the virus, so I wear a mask in solidarity with him whenever we are in indoor public spaces," Akin said.

The Delta variant, which appears to spread faster and more easily than prior strains of the virus, is now estimated to be responsible for more than 80 percent of all new cases of COVID-19 across the U.S.

Nevertheless, the FDA-approved vaccines continue to provide effective protection against the Delta variant; an estimated 99.7% of those hospitalized with the Delta variant are unvaccinated.

Infectious disease experts are also looking at the new Lambda variant from South America.

Making the Right Decision

What should you know before making a decision whether to continue COVID-19 protocols?

A key question for each individual is whether they've been vaccinated and when.

Full protection from the virus takes effect about two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine. Vaccines are available under emergency authorization for use in the U.S for those 12 years of age or older.

Second, decide if you are willing to take the risks of developing the Delta variant or some forthcoming mutation of COVID-19.

Military personnel wearing a mask
Air Force Senior Airman Monaja Jackson, a 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron quality assurance personnelist, poses for a portrait at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Aug. 11, 2020, wearing her required mask to protect against COVID-19 ( Photo by: Staff Sgt. Lauren Parsons, United States Air Forces Central).

This is crucial if you are unvaccinated and do not practice masking and physical distancing. The benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

Third, check the rate of COVID-19 infections in your local area and wherever you may be traveling, especially during the summer when many military families are moving due to permanent changes of station.

There are testing and quarantining requirements for international travel.

Fourth, abide by the masking and social distancing rules imposed by retailers, health care facilities, transportation authorities, and other locations. It is their prerogative to enforce these restrictions.

Going Back to School

The Department of Defense Education Activity already held full, in-person learning during the last school year and plans to do so this school year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on July 9 to suggest that schools should reopen fully in the fall, even if they are unable to follow all of the recommended safety precautions to curb the spread of the virus.

If your child is attending a local school off-base, be sure to check with your local school and local health officials for the most current guidance on how to promote safer in-person learning and care.

Continue to Be Alert to COVID-19

CDC cautions that: "You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you've been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others."

"Particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission," the CDC recommends that "people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated."

CDC also cautions that, "if you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. Talk to your health care provider. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking all precautions."

The main message --

  • If you want to return to activities that were put aside during the pandemic, get fully vaccinated, and keep that mask and hand sanitizer at the ready.

"I received the vaccine to open the door to be liberal with my feeling of safety" in the outside world, Hrncir said.

"You have to have a safe place where people can be their normal selves," he explained. "Protecting your safe environment should be the motivator" for vaccination against COVID-19, and "helping [other] people be safe in their own environment."

"In the military, you can apply that same rule: You still need a place to keep safe, such as a dorm. By getting vaccinated against COVID-19 "you are expanding the safe place, for yourself and others," Hrncir said.

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