By Alexandra Becker
Whether it was to hit the slopes, frolic in the waves or visit family out of state, a large number of Houstonians travelled far and wide during Spring Break last week. With the majority of those vacationers now back home, many wonder what’s safe when it comes to COVID-19 protocols, especially with the Passover, Holi and Easter holidays right around the corner. We spoke to three experts at Memorial Hermann Health System to answer some of our most-asked questions related to current safety precautions and springtime get-togethers.
Q: A lot of people travelled over Spring Break, so now that we’re settling back into our routines, what is considered safe? Should people who travelled quarantine for 10 days unless they’ve been vaccinated?
A: With COVID-19, it’s better to play it safe and quarantine unless you’ve been fully vaccinated. We are still seeing a lot of community spread, and travelling still carries the same risks as it has since the pandemic began. Although the CDC now says that fully vaccinated people do not need to be quarantined after being in contact with someone who has tested positive (as long as you are not experiencing any symptoms), and while early data suggest that the vaccine can protect us from even getting the virus, experts recommend everyone should continue to practice social distancing and wear their masks. – Dr. Linda Yancey, M.D., Infectious Disease Specialist for Memorial Hermann Health System
Q: Do people who travelled by plane carry a higher risk of spreading COVID-19? What if they practiced safety measures while they were flying?
A: People who practiced safety measures while traveling, such as wearing their mask consistently and practicing proper hand hygiene, are less likely to have contracted COVID-19, but any exposure to other individuals still carries a risk. Plane travel delivers more opportunities for exposure than travelling by car, but people who took road trips could have also been exposed at gas stations or hotels. Any trip that did not include strict social distancing measures carries some risk of exposure. –Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, M.D., Associate Vice President of Medical Operations at Memorial Hermann Medical Group
Q: If I or my loved one has been vaccinated, are we safe to go about our lives and send our children to daycare/school and visit friends or family, or is there still a risk of asymptomatic transmission?
A: We still believe that fully vaccinated individuals can carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Although the risk of asymptomatic transmission is lower in individuals who have been vaccinated than in those who have not, the data we currently have suggests there is still risk, so you should keep that in mind when making decisions about seeing people outside your immediate household or bubble. As a reminder, the CDC now says that fully vaccinated individuals can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart, and can also visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors as long as those individuals are at low risk for severe disease. It is also well documented that children are safe at school and daycare and that there is a low rate of spread because preventive measures such as universal masking, social distancing and enhanced cleaning are in place. –Dr. John Butler, M.D., Epidemiologist for Memorial Hermann Health System
Q: I’d love to get together with my family for the upcoming Passover, Holi and/or Easter holidays. What is safe and what is not?
A: Unless everyone in your group is fully vaccinated, I recommend beginning your “bubble” immediately so that everyone who plans to get together has agreed to adhere to the same safety precautions and limit any chance of exposure ahead of the gathering. Since the weather is improving, consider moving your celebration outdoors to further reduce risk, and it is still safer to serve individually-portioned food rather than “family style” to limit possible transmission. Because the Passover and Holi holidays are in just a few days, it’s too soon to start a bubble, so I recommend only getting together with loved ones in your immediate household or, if you are fully vaccinated, getting together with a household that is also fully vaccinated. Testing is an option as well; it will provide additional assurance as you gather with family or friends. If anyone develops symptoms, it is best that they stay home, rest and seek medical attention if needed. –Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, M.D., Associate Vice President of Medical Operations at Memorial Hermann Medical Group
Q: In the past, my family has gotten a rapid COVID-19 test before getting together. If someone has been vaccinated, can they still do this and will it be accurate?
A: A person who has been vaccinated can still get a rapid COVID-19 test if they want to double check that they are not carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and this test should still be accurate. However, the rapid test has never been a guaranteed safeguard against spreading COVID-19, since an individual can test negative even after being exposed (or they can be exposed after the test). We continue to recommend quarantining and social distancing before getting together with loved ones, especially if anyone in your group is unvaccinated and at risk for severe disease from COVID-19. –Dr. Linda Yancey, M.D., Infectious Disease Specialist for Memorial Hermann Health System