Throughout most of 2020, people practiced social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Now that vaccines have gone into the arms of millions across the country, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has loosened mask-wearing guidelines for the vaccinated, many are anxious about how to have in-person social interactions or what to do if invited to a maskless event, especially during Memorial Day (May 31) weekend.
To help the cautious navigate through resocialization after a year of being apart, director of health promotion and education Jessica Cannon ’03 and term assistant professor of education Erika Kitzmiller offer tips for how to do just that.
How do you politely leave a gathering if you don’t feel comfortable?
Jessica Cannon ’03: “As we return to socializing after all of this time, it makes sense that we might need an adjustment period. If you feel uncomfortable at a gathering, first remember that your feelings are worth paying attention to. It’s absolutely OK to let your host know that you’re still easing in to socializing and need to head out early this time.”
Erika Kitzmiller: “Before I attend any event, I ask the hosts what social-distancing guidelines they plan to follow. I have only attended events where the plans reflect my risk levels. So far, I haven’t had to leave any gatherings, but it also means that I do not attend many events and haven’t seen many people since last March. None of this is easy.”
How can hosts implement mask mandates respectfully?
Kitzmiller: “Discussing one’s guidelines before events occur mitigates challenges. As a family, we are very careful, and we make that clear with our guests. Masks on, outside events only. We do not socialize indoors with anyone except for immediate family members who have been fully vaccinated. Again, this means we do not see many people, but given the number of people we know who have had COVID-19 and the risks in our family, we are still being very cautious.”
Cannon: “One way to implement mask mandates respectfully is to set the expectation ahead of time, starting with the invitation. Whether you’re inviting folks with a text or sending an email, be sure to mention that, for everyone’s comfort, you and all guests will be wearing masks. Setting that precedent early will make it easier to gently remind guests who may forget. If possible, having a few extra masks on hand is another great way to reinforce that yes, you do mean everyone needs to wear a mask.”
How can you ensure that all guests are vaccinated, and if they aren’t, how do you tell them they can’t attend?
Cannon: “If you’re hoping to have a gathering with only vaccinated guests, it’s probably a good idea to consider what you’re asking specifically: not just are you vaccinated, but did you receive your final dose at least two weeks ago, or will it have been at least two weeks by the time of the gathering? While all adults in the U.S. are eligible for the vaccine as of April 19, access to vaccine appointments has not been simple, and not all of your guests may have had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet. It is certainly possible to tell guests that you’re planning an event now that you yourself are vaccinated and are hoping to include vaccinated folks and to then ask if they themselves have been vaccinated — you might even consider inviting guests you’ve already spoken to about vaccination plans until access to vaccination is more widely available.”
Kitzmiller: “We only have events outdoors, and everyone must wear masks. Since the transmission rates are much lower outdoors, we have not prevented unvaccinated people from attending. We also have two young children [who aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines], so we have unvaccinated people at our house.”