How to Reality Check Covid Concerns?
March 10, 2021 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I think I need some perspective about Covid and what a reasonable level of precaution is these days. The world is opening up again but I feel unsure about how safe I should feel - can you talk some sense into me or give me some resources about this? Details of my situation inside.

Honestly, I think the last year has done a number on my own ability to reality check what's safe or not. I see the world around me starting to go "BACK TO NORMAL!" but hear experts saying "NOT YET!" and I'm just feeling scared and anxious about it all.

-I am a fairly healthy woman in her mid-30's, so I shouldn't be overly paranoid about covid due to underlying health conditions or anything. But, I am athletic and enjoy lots of active hobbies (running, biking, skiing, etc etc etc), and the idea of getting covid or having long-haul symptoms and not being able to do those things makes me super paranoid about getting it.

-I work in a school and we will be returning to in-person soon. I will have had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine by then. I'm anticipating pretty low compliance of mask use/social distancing at school for reasons, please trust me on this and that I have little control over that. I will use kn95s religiously at work and already use good fabric masks with filters for errands. For some of the day I have a little independent work - can I sit in an empty classroom safely, or should I be sitting in my car?

-I live in NW Washington state, which is yellow on this map of cases.

-I plan to continue my own diligence of doing outdoor activities/socializing for quite some time and am not particularly eager to go eat in restaurants, or sit on a plane or in a movie theater. But is browsing inside stores at an outdoor outlet mall alright? Can I go to the gym for short workouts with a mask once I'm vaccinated? I have friends and family who are not as diligent with precautions, can I visit them at their house or ride in cars with them once I'm vaccinated? Or are all these things still not good ideas?

I guess I'm wondering how much I can trust the vaccine to protect me and how much I should still be paranoid (like I've been) or just "reasonably cautious but live your life." I thought I'd feel more safe after getting vaccinated, but after my first dose I don't feel any sense of security yet. Looking forward as vaccinations become widespread and mask mandates are dropped, how do I come to terms with covid as just another small risk in the world like car accidents or randomly having a stroke?

Sorry for the wall of text, but I'm hoping the MeFi community can answer the specific precaution questions I asked above, AND/OR give me resources to help judge for myself on a case-by-case basis (I've seen risk models here but none that include being vaccinated). Or articles on how to trust the vaccine and what the world "opening up" SHOULD look like in an ideal world. Or just validation from others that might be experiencing similar feelings. Thanks in advance :)
posted by carlypennylane to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 


Best answer: I will say: You shouldn't feel hugely more secure after one shot if it's a two-shot vaccine. Like, that's correct and normal, because the whole point is, one shot is not enough to confer serious protection. I know some people are expressing on social media how much less afraid and more relieved they are after Shot 1 but this is purely psychological; they are NOT fully protected yet.

Looking forward as vaccinations become widespread and mask mandates are dropped, how do I come to terms with covid as just another small risk in the world like car accidents or randomly having a stroke?

The answer to all of these is, everyone has a guess (some of them have educated guesses), and literally nobody knows. We've never done this before. We will all just have to pays our moneys and takes our chances at some point, because staying locked in our homes for the next 60 years just really isn't an option. How did you come to terms with the possibility of a random stroke? You just did, because you have no choice.

Yes, we have tools to calculate statistical risk, and yes, they'll adapt as vaccination becomes more widespread. But ultimately, we're all going to have to draw personal lines based on what we can and can't live without, to a certain extent. Because someone is still the one in a thousand, or one in ten thousand. And we're all gonna kind of feel like shit about it and be unsure all the time for a SUPER long time. It's that uncertainty that we need to get comfortable with.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:01 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Best answer: I wouldn't be inclined to go the gym yet, because other people will be huffing and puffing, and that gets masks soggy and soggy masks aren't as effective as dry masks. Anything you can do outdoors should be great.

Are your friends and family vaccinated too? Have at it. No? Visit while masked, preferably but not necessarily outdoors and distanced.

Was the classroom full of students before your free period? If so, I would be less inclined to use that space. Is there a library that's a useful alternative?

I think once your at the two weeks post second vaccine point, your main concern should be to behave in ways that are unlikely to infect other people. You should feel confident in your own safety. Even if you get COVID after that, the impact on you seems as if it will be negligible. But you don't want to have a very mild, maybe even unnoticeable case, and pass it on to someone who doesn't have protection yet.

All these are just the random thoughts of a random internet person (who has been very COVID conscious), not of someone with any particular expertise. Make of it them what you will.
posted by kate4914 at 4:12 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]


Best answer: This CDC guidelines list is from npr.org, dated March 8, 2021. It talks about safety levels of activities for fully vaccinated people.

This is from an npr interview, dated March 9, 2021, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and his boss, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

Here's the CDC's specific guidance for what fully vaccinated people can do:
"Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing;
"Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
"Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure to COVID-19 if asymptomatic"

The CDC said fully vaccinated people should continue to take these COVID-19 precautions:
"Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
"Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
"Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
"Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
"Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
"Follow guidance issued by individual employers
"Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations"
posted by SageTrail at 4:17 PM on March 10 [9 favorites]


Best answer: I think it depends on the infection rates where you live. And that you need to think not just about your own risk of catching Covid, but the effects of everyone doing the same as you and whether you are creating or breaking transmission chains. Sadly, since you are already somewhat exposed due to your job, that means that you should limit your recreational exposure.

If the infection rate is comparatively high where you live, then stick to safer activities. Once the infection rate falls substantially as more people are vaccinated, or if it has already, then add in things that are higher risk.

Although the vaccine protects you a lot, at a population level it isn't perfect, and the more we can keep chains of transmission down, the faster we can get back to a real normal.
posted by plonkee at 4:22 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I agree with kate4914 entirely.

I mostly want to add this: it's very useful to separate out the *feeling* of being safe from your *understanding* of your own safety. I've thought about this in other contexts because I am someone whose sense of safety rarely aligns with reality, unless there's something physical involved. Like, I feel unsafe at the top of a tippy ladder, but I have to remind myself not to swim across the lake if there's lightning. On the other hand, I often feel real anxiety and fear about sending certain emails that are easy and even low-consequence, but not at all nervous about speaking in public in front of large groups of people, even in important situations.

So I've had to teach myself (and it's a work in progress) to use my mind instead of my emotions to assign risk. I cross at the crosswalk because it's a good habit to teach my kid and it makes my husband nervous when I run through traffic if I deem it slow moving enough. The worst possible outcome of installing a new washing machine is not worth panic. Whether I feel anxious about something is an inconsistent barometer of how dangerous that thing is.

I hope this helps a little. Good luck.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:24 PM on March 10 [17 favorites]


Best answer: Yeah, one of the consequences of the unprecedented-in-modern-times nature of this pandemic is that the media and public health leaders' messaging has been all over the place, leaving lots of us confused about what to believe and who to trust. That said, nearly all the experts I've read have taken a very positive view of the CDC's recent guidance about what you can do once you're fully vaccinated, which takes a cautious approach but resists the fearmongering that was prevalent around December and January.

It basically reflects the increasingly overwhelming evidence that once you are fully vaccinated, your chances of suffering any serious symptoms from COVID are likely near zero and your chances of transmitting the disease are significantly reduced. After being fully vaccinated, I would personally not think twice about sitting in an empty classroom. I also wouldn't mind visiting unvaccinated friends or family (one household at a time, per CDC guidelines) out of any worry for my own wellbeing, though if they were at elevated risk I might think twice, especially if I'd been out in public and exposed to others recently and was at a greater risk of having an asymptomatic infection. Likewise, I think browsing outlet stores and going masked to a gym would also be well within my comfort zone in terms of personal safety, though depending on how these places are staffed I would feel more comfortable once I knew that the employees had access to vaccines.

If you want to take a public service perspective on these decisions, I think there is value in modelling for those who might be vaccine-skeptical that life after the vaccine is different and better than life before, even if it's not totally back to normal. (for the same reason we have to keep wearing masks in public, so social norms around doing so don't degrade)
posted by exutima at 4:26 PM on March 10 [10 favorites]


Best answer: Here's another great article, dated March 8, 2021.
posted by SageTrail at 4:26 PM on March 10


Best answer: Hi, I am half vaccinated and also very paranoid. I honestly can't say how much I am going to relax my standards in the future, other than I am going to follow the CDC guidelines (since now Trump is gone, we can actually trust them). It can't hurt you to keep them up, I'll put it that way. Clearly you have no choice but to be in person at school so you have no choice but to deal with that, but for the rest of it....

My impression of the whole thing is that you can be less paranoid for yourself but have to continue to be paranoid at least on some level with regards to other people, even if it is seeming more likely that you probably aren't going around infecting others. I'm not sure how paranoid we have to be about the variants, specifically, but that's where my worries are these days once the shots are done.

I attempted to directly Google for what you asked:
* Sit in your empty classroom vs. your car: I suspect the classroom thing will depend on the ventilation/window (NYT link) opening, and whether or not you can/are allowed to lock your door. I don't think I can answer the ventilation, but if you want to be left alone and there's a possibility that someone will come looking for you in the empty classroom, I'd go to the car.
* Go shop indoors: if people in your community are going mask-free in stores, maybe not. I am not going in stores much these days but the few I go into, people have them on and are keeping their distance, so I have more or less been okay with that here. They're still saying to wear masks in stores. Beyond that, Google failed me when I looked for more details on this one.
* The gym: here's the advice I found on that one. This seems pretty clear: mostly okay but depends on situation, still mask up.
* Visiting the unvaccinated/uncareful: CDC link above says you can give it a go if they're "low risk." Here's something from Those Nerdy Girls as well. I'd probably still follow these car guidelines.

You can try asking a question to DearPandemic.org. I've sent in a few questions that haven't been answered yet, but you never know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:33 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


Best answer: The question is only partly answerable; we haven't really done this before. The correct doses for whichever vaccine you got have efficacy ratings that are reasonably accurate.
The Pfizer vaccine showed efficacy of 95% at preventing symptomatic Covid infection after two doses. The vaccine appeared to be more or less equally protective across age groups and racial and ethnic groups.

From your state Dept Health:
The COVID-19 vaccines can protect you in several key ways:
- They can greatly reduce your chance of getting seriously ill if you get COVID-1
- Completing the vaccine series reduces your chances of hospitalization and lowers your risk of dying from COVID-19
- They are highly effective at preventing COVID-19
- They add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19, making it harder for the disease to spread


I think you are wise to be very cautious, but also, we have a federal government that is much more generally competent and lies a lot less. I am feeling more trusting of information from the CDC. My state of Maine has had good leadership, low Covid numbers, and is making plans for opening up cautiously this summer. I will feel fine in ventilated not-too-crowded spaces, and I already feel less skeevy about grocery shopping. I will keep wearing a mask until I am assured it's okay by multiple reliable sources, but that's more social responsibility than concern for my own health after my vax is complete.

I think it makes sense to choose a couple of sources to trust, read their guidance, and be prudent.
posted by theora55 at 4:38 PM on March 10


Best answer: Others have addressed the data and CDC recommendations, which the epidemiologists I know are on board with. Just remember that you're not fully protected until two weeks after dose 2 of the vaccine. (Technically, 10-14 days, but be conservative on this one.)

The psychological aspects of returning to "normal" can be profound and disorienting, especially if you do it all at once. Instead, treat reopening like a dimmer switch. Pick, like, one "normal" activity a week (in person work, window-shopping, gym, restaurants, visiting). Check in with yourself at the end of the week: feel safe? Feel OK? Feel ready to move forward? If the answer to any of those questions is no, pause the dimmer, but if you psychologically feel ready, add a new activity for the next week.

My favorite saying is "start low and go slow." Works for many situations, including this one!
posted by basalganglia at 4:46 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


Best answer: Once my vaxx is complete, I plan on going into stores and the gym freely. I will wear a cloth mask. Looking forward to Starbucks, getting a haircut, and casual grab grocery store trips.

I'm not planning any travel yet, mostly because my spouse won't be vaxxed for a while and because I am kind of enjoying the lack of pressure to travel. Otherwise I would do so, with cloth mask.

Mask wearing is still important to keep up the social pressure to mask.

Fully vaxxed is as safe as we're going to get, for the intermediate future.
The full science is still out, but most signs point strongly towards very reduced transmission at least. Your own personal R0 will be much less than 1, and this translates to: you will no longer be likely to perpetuate a pandemic. At this point, 70% of over-75s are vaxxed, as are many at-risk people. My worry about transmission is quite low. But again, I will wear a mask until CDC says we can remove them.
posted by Dashy at 6:28 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, I do feel reassured and like I have more reasonable perspective now. I knew I could count on the Metafilter community. I marked them all as best, and I will definitely be using that updated risk calculator website, and the advice to "start low and go slow" sounds especially helpful for the psychological effects of the transition from pandemic lock down back to normality. If anyone else would like to share, please do so!!
posted by carlypennylane at 8:16 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


"I thought I'd feel more safe after getting vaccinated, but after my first dose I don't feel any sense of security yet."

The first shot came with several feelings, happy to be chosen, guilty, but it also just felt like a chore - like getting the flu shot. I didn't change my approach to covid risk and although I'm in a very low risk category, we took it very seriously in my household. I didn't/don't feel like I deserved the shot, the vaccinated rate was less than 1% at that time, but I did it because I felt obligated to. If it was just down to me feeling happy about it I could waited for that, I have others in my life who properly need it.

So here I am crying at work about that.

But the second shot. That got me right in all the feels. There was elation in that room, like the other kind of tears in my eyes right now elation. I didn't have much of a reaction - I felt heavy and I had the most shocking dream I was drowning. Pure panic. And then slept so hard after.

I still mask up and distance and make the same motions, but it's when I'm washing my hands I'm not scrubbing, it's the same but it feels different. When the mask comes off it's not covered in some microscopic alien facehugger trying to get me. I still worry about others, I can't believe how much my hands want to touch my face in public aahhhhh. I still feel vulnerable, it still feels like a threat, and I don't think I'll ever shake it entirely. But those feelings are more habitual, and fading into the shadows. I feel safer. But I'm keeping the mask.

The first of my friends is getting their second shot today. I am going to hug them like I never hugged a person in my life. I'll let you know how that feels. Right now I shouldn't be touching my face so much cause I'm at work, in an office, and I need to keep my mask dry. I thought normal would feel normal but it doesn't and it isn't.
posted by zenon at 7:56 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Something close to the old normal will come when you and your household are vaccinated, AND most of your close family and friends are vaccinated, AND the Covid transmission rate in your area is negligible.

That last one SHOULD happen when a critical mass of people in your area are vaccinated, but of course it remains to be seen if we'll be able to reach that population percentage of vaccinations in a practical sense. Exactly what percentage of the population do we need vaccinated, and can we really convince that high a percentage to get it?

(Also there is a bit of a wildcard with the variants and their response to the vaccines. Hopefully not too wild of a wildcard, but we'll see.)
posted by flug at 8:31 PM on March 11


Once my vaxx is complete, I plan on going into stores and the gym freely. I will wear a cloth mask. Looking forward to Starbucks, getting a haircut, and casual grab grocery store trips.

Other than going to the gym (which I didn't do before the pandemic either), that list sounds right to me, plus being able to get together with friends. I'll wear a mask wherever it is expected or required, but I am looking forward to simple errands just being boring, rather than stressful. Also, right now I wear a medical-grade mask everywhere -- something else I am looking forward to is over time adjusting my comfort level back to a more comfortable and more breathable mask instead, and eventually (when the public health guidance agrees) foregoing the mask entirely.

Around here, restaurants can have indoor seating at 25% capacity. Once fully vaccinated, that is something I will likely start doing again. Right now we do takeout only, plus patio seating at a couple of places that have their patios set up really well.

Basically, the CDC guidance linked by others above sounds about right to me in terms of my own comfort level. Do things, but with some thought and care. I would expect that guidance to continue to loosen with time, and as more and more people get vaccinated.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:52 AM on March 12


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