Everything You Need to Know About Entertaining and Gathering Now That You’re Vaccinated

published May 20, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

So, you got your second shot (or your one-dose J&J) and waited the requisite two weeks. What’s next? It’s time to party like it’s 2019! No mask, no distancing. Hugs for all! But wait. Is it really safe to mix and mingle — outside and inside?

After more than a year of social distancing, getting back into the social swing of things can take a little getting used to. It’s hard to know what’s safe and what’s not. So we consulted two experts to help us get answers to our biggest questions around post-vax gathering.

Dr. Anne Liu is an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care. Dr. Dawn Nolt is a professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases) in the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine. Both are well-versed in the intricacies of disease transmission and they shed some light on the CDC’s recommendations for those who are, and aren’t, fully vaccinated. Let’s take a look.

The CDC says “Vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.” Can I have gatherings now if everyone is fully vaccinated? 

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can basically do anything that you could do pre-pandemic, including having gatherings or parties. You don’t need to wear masks or physical distance,” says Nolt.

And you don’t even have to keep the party outside. “If all attendees are fully vaccinated, then it is generally acceptable to have an indoor gathering,” says Liu. 

Can I have a party in a public space with strangers around? Like in a restaurant or bar?

“Gathering in an indoor public space is higher risk because you probably will not know the vaccination status of everyone in the room,” says Liu. “Although being fully vaccinated substantially reduces the risk of getting infected, the risk is not zero. The residual risk depends in part on age and other health conditions.”

The CDC considers attending an indoor gathering, either in a private space or a public space, a “safe activity” for fully vaccinated people. However, both are “less safe” for those who are unvaccinated. And if it’s a crowded outdoor public area, or just a normal indoor public area, like a restaurant, that activity becomes “least safe” for the unvaccinated guests.

There are also still rules and restrictions about masking and gathering in public spaces, so you’ll need to check with local health authorities before making plans. “Guidance continues to evolve on masking and mixing, and the rules are ultimately determined by each county,” says Liu. 

Nolt agrees: “There are still laws, rules, and regulations that need to be followed at the federal, state, and local levels, and you need to respect local business and workplace guidance.”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

How many people should I limit the party to if it’s in my house? 

“If everyone is fully vaccinated, there is no limit to how big the party is,” says Nolt. Although Liu notes that it’s a good idea to double check with your local county guidance on this. “The smaller your group, the lower the risk,” she says.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Do I need to worry about hand-washing, double dipping, or sharing glasses?

While the CDC says there is no evidence that people can get COVID-19 from eating food, “The utensils and congregating around food service areas may present risks.” If you’re vaccinated, those risks are much lower, of course. But honestly, if we learned anything this last year or so, it’s that you can never be too safe. Washing your hands is always a good idea! And get yourself your own plate and drink.

What if everyone but the kids are vaccinated?

“Unvaccinated individuals from different households should still avoid being indoors and unmasked together,” says Liu. “Last summer children were less than 5% of documented COVID-19 cases. Now they are over 20% of cases. This is, in part, because older adults are getting vaccinated, so kids will be a higher proportion of cases, but also as people come together again and a more transmissible variant has become the dominant strain, kids are getting infections. Youth indoor sports accounted for a number of case clusters in Michigan during their recent wave.”

So it doesn’t matter if they’re kids or adults — if there’s more than one unvaccinated person at the party, and they’re from different households, they need to mask up? 

“If the unvaccinated individuals are all from the same household, they can mix with vaccinated individuals from other households, provided there are no health conditions in the group that would make someone less likely to respond to the vaccine,” says Liu. 

They can also skip the mask if they’re the only unvaccinated person in the group. Otherwise, people from different households without vaccinations, regardless of age, should wear masks and avoid being indoors together. Luckily, the weather is warming up so it’s prime time to take the party outside. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

If I’m the host, should I ask my guests if they have been vaccinated? 

“You can ask, but your guests do not have to answer,” says Nolt. “They may answer, but may not answer truthfully. As the host, you should clearly set out safety expectations to your guests — what food to bring, what attire is appropriate, and that they are to mask if they are under-vaccinated, regardless of their reasons for not being fully vaccinated.”

Keep in mind, people might not want their vaccination status shared with others, so be sure to get permission before spreading any news.

Do I need to disclose to my other guests if someone coming to the party isn’t vaccinated? 

“You do not need to disclose to guests that someone is under-vaccinated,” says Nolt, “since there is little risk of infection to your vaccinated guests. The risk is to the unvaccinated person who does not mask themselves.”

How big is the risk of a vaccinated person transmitting the virus to an unvaccinated person?

“It’s probably fairly low but not zero risk,” says Liu. The CDC says, in general, those who are vaccinated don’t need to self-quarantine or get tested even if they’ve been around someone who has COVID-19. However, you should still watch out for symptoms and if you have them, get tested and stay home away from others if your test is positive. 

“If a vaccinated person does become infected (a break-through case), they are not as likely to be as sick or as contagious as an unvaccinated person,” Nolt points out. If you have symptoms or don’t feel well, it’s best to stay home. Even if you’re vaccinated! 

If fully vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, does the vaccine just make it less likely they’ll get it, or that the effects would be less drastic?

“Exactly. The spectrum of COVID-19 disease starts at mild to no symptoms, all the way to hospitalization and death,” Nolt reminds us. “The vaccine shifts that spectrum towards the milder end — you may have been at risk for hospitalization, but being vaccinated shifts that illness to mild.”

Do unvaccinated people pose a higher risk of transmission than vaccinated people?

“Absolutely yes,” Liu says. But why are they more effective at transmitting the disease? “Unvaccinated persons are sicker, and thus may have more virus to ‘share’ with others,” says Nolt.

Do you have any other questions about gathering this summer? Leave them below!