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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Preparing for a post-pandemic life

People converse while socially-distanced and wearing masks outside of the Student Stores on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.

With mask and public gathering restrictions easing up across the United States, public health experts have been optimistic about the opportunity for a “normal” summer. As vaccine distribution continues, these limitations are bound to be removed altogether, like with the social distancing mandate Gov. Roy Cooper is hoping to lift by June 1. 

With these changes, the question arises — what is going to be “pandemic-acceptable” this summer? Can you board a plane, sip a cider at an outdoor bar or have that post-pandemic party you’ve been waiting for? While many of these questions still don't have concrete answers, public health officials have shed light on how we can expect social expectations to change as global COVID-19 case numbers begin to drop.

What will the summer look like?

The CDC has deemed indoor gatherings (as long as everyone is vaccinated) safe. But with the weather getting warmer and outdoor events being proven to have low transmission rates, you can likely have that barbecue or go on a picnic with your friends. You can also expect to be able to start eating indoors at restaurants, but be ready to see and partake in an increase in outdoor dining and drinking.

And if you’re feeling cabin fever (and after more than a year in quarantine, who could blame you?), vacation spots within driving distance that offer outdoor activities, such as beaches or mountains, are going to be a safe bet. Maintaining a safe distance from other people will still be important until the majority of the population is able to get immunized, but odds will be in your favor when it comes to a summer road trip and lying out in the sun.

What are we going to have to wait for?

While vaccinated people have been given the green light to attend indoor gatherings, there is still concern regarding what transmission could look like for individuals who haven't been immunized. This applies to children who haven't met the vaccine age requirement, or people who may have allergic reactions or preexisting conditions that prevent them from receiving their shot.

Large gatherings, such as music festivals, concerts and sporting events, will probably still be invite-only or run at a smaller capacity to reduce liability and risk. It may be a while — potentially 2022 — until we can see the return of these events in full swing.

Additionally, travel is still up in the air; countries such as Canada have yet to lift their travel restrictions, even for people who have been vaccinated. And with different nations experiencing different levels of success with vaccination rollout and pandemic control, it’s likely that your dream trip to Europe will have to wait another couple of months.

What will next year look like?

With the United States moving through vaccine distribution, we can hope to see the return of fully packed football games and concert venues sometime in the later months of 2021. International travel, especially long-haul leisure trips and vacations, will rise toward the end of 2021 but likely will not return to normal levels until the spring of next year. And while everyone is waiting to throw away those masks we’ve stockpiled, experts suggest that we will not see indoor mask mandates removed until sometime in 2022. 

Furthermore, according to Pfizer's CEO, individuals will likely need a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine within a year (and potentially an annual shot for every year after). The same goes for the Moderna vaccine. This is to mitigate risks raised by emerging variant strains of SARS-CoV-2, such as the B.1.1.7 variant that the United Kingdom is currently dealing with.

Regardless, the end of the pandemic seems to be on the horizon and is propagated by the potential for a summer that can be spent (safely) outside the comfort of our own homes.


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