Opinion | I Got My Covid Vaccine. Now Can I Hug My Mom?

Three experts respond to questions from readers about what they can do after getting vaccinated.

Credit…Eleanor Davis

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By Linsey Marr, Juliet Morrison and Caitlin Rivers

Dr. Marr is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Dr. Morrison is a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Rivers is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

People want to know what they can do after they are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans. The agency says vaccinated people can gather indoors in small groups without needing to mask. This includes meeting indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household as long as no one unvaccinated is at high risk for severe Covid-19.

In public, people who are vaccinated should still wear masks and practice distancing. Scientists are still learning how well the vaccines keep people from spreading the virus. If vaccinated people have been around someone with Covid-19, they do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless they have symptoms.

But blanket recommendations can’t account for the nuances of every person’s situation. That’s why we asked three experts from different disciplines — an airborne-transmission expert, Linsey Marr; and a virus expert, Juliet Morrison; an epidemiologist, Caitlin Rivers — to respond to readers’ questions about their postvaccination lifestyles. — Alexandra Sifferlin, senior staff editor

Can I eat dinner with my mom?

Can I hug my mom, 94 years old, who also has been vaccinated? Do I need to wear a mask when I’m with her? Can we eat dinner together without me putting her life at risk? — Helen Harrison, 55, Mt. Kisco, N.Y.

Linsey Marr: The vaccines will enable us to start spending time together with our loved ones indoors and unmasked. Yes to hugging and spending time together unmasked, but I would still avoid restaurants because of the new variants circulating and likely lower efficacy of some of the vaccines against them, especially because your mom is 94. What you want to avoid is spending more than a few minutes in a situation where there might be high levels of virus in the air. This means that you should avoid crowded indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated.

Caitlin Rivers: I love hearing about families getting together again. Since you are both fully vaccinated, you can safely hug your mom, share a meal and ride in the car. I agree with Dr. Marr that since your mom is older, it’s not a bad idea to choose takeout or dinner at home over a restaurant, where lots of people will be indoors and unmasked.

Should I still mask up in the classroom?

I am a teacher. Next month classes will resume, and students will be in the classroom. I will be completely vaccinated by that time. Should I continue to take precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing? — Michelle Bowman, 55, Los Gatos, Calif.

Juliet Morrison: You and your students should continue to wear masks and socially distance in the classroom. Since your students are not vaccinated, they can get infected with the virus, get sick and also spread it to others. Based on what we know so far, there is a possibility that you could get infected and transmit it to the unvaccinated persons that you interact with inside and outside of the classroom.

Marr: I’m so glad that teachers are being prioritized for vaccines in many places. While you are protected, the students are not. It is crucial that students follow precautions to minimize the risk of transmission between students and their households by wearing masks and staying apart. I think teachers and other adults in school should continue to wear masks and social distance to set a good example for the students.

Can I send my child back to day care?

Is it safe to send my child back to day care, where children are too young to be masked and distanced, now that the adults in our household (who are at higher risk because of age and health conditions) are vaccinated? Do any of the variants pose extra risk to young children? — Amy Hill, 44, Silver Spring, Md.

Marr: If the child does not have any underlying medical conditions, then I think it’s OK to send them back to day care. It’s possible the virus could spread among the children at the day care center, but it’s unlikely that your child will be able to spread the virus to vaccinated adults in your household.

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