Ready for some summer fun? A guide to what’s safe as COVID-19 rates drop

Vaccinated people have more options for safe activities, but there is still risk.

With COVID-19 case rates in California at their lowest since the pandemic began, the state economy set to reopen in June and Los Angeles County on track to get close to herd immunity in July, many residents who’ve been reluctant to leave home for more than a year are starting to think about going out for some summer fun.

Not all activities are equally safe, however, particularly for those who aren’t fully vaccinated. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaxed masking and social distancing rules for the fully vaccinated – defined as two weeks after receiving two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot – those who haven’t been vaccinated are still urged to exercise caution in public places and when mixing with people from outside their household.

In California, masks are still required indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Those who are fully vaccinated must wear masks in crowded public places outdoors, such as festivals, fairs, live performances and sporting events. State health officials plan to adopt the CDC’s more permissive guidelines beginning June 15. Los Angeles County rules echo state guidelines.

Even being fully vaccinated, though, isn’t a free pass to disregard all COVID-19 risks.

“For other infectious diseases, it’s not like we throw complete caution to the wind,” says Annabelle de St. Maurice, MD, MPH, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health. “You still wash your hands before you eat or after you use the bathroom, even though we have highly effective vaccines.”

The CDC says people yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 need to remain quite cautious, recognizing that getting a haircut, taking public transportation and visiting indoors with vaccinated and unvaccinated people from multiple households can still present safety concerns.

Other activities the organization deems safe for vaccinated people but unsafe for the unvaccinated include going to a movie theater, eating inside a restaurant and participating in a vigorous exercise class indoors.

While the available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, not everyone’s immunity is the same, Dr. de St. Maurice says. “It might vary depending on your immune system. If an individual has cancer or had a solid-organ transplant, the vaccine is less likely to be effective,” she says — something for families to consider as they plan warm-weather outings.

Visitors enjoy a sunny day at the Santa Monica Pier. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

We asked Dr. de St. Maurice for her perspective on other popular summer activities:

  • Going to an outdoor concert: The Hollywood Bowl is reopening after the pandemic forced its closure in 2020 for the first time in its 98-year history. Tickets for the landmark venue’s  summer concert season go on sale June 1. Capacity will be limited, masks are required and there will be separate seating options for vaccinated and unvaccinated guests. Several summer music festivals are planned across California. These events, though outside, can present some infection risk, Dr. de St. Maurice says. “If you’re vaccinated and with a small group of people, the CDC says that’s OK,” she says. “But if you have a large group of people who are crowded together then the risk may be higher.”
  • Traveling by airplane: “There’s always variation in risk,” says Dr. de St. Maurice, including one’s vaccination status, the amount of time spent at the airport in crowded lines or on the tarmac breathing recirculated air, the airline’s mask requirements and how crowded the flight is. “There’s good data demonstrating that leaving the middle seat open really reduces risk of transmission,” she says. “If you’re traveling with your family, you could fill a row on the plane, potentially, and that would reduce your risk. So it depends on multiple factors.” The other factor to consider is the rate of transmission of COVID-19 at your destination. The Transportation Security Administration extended its mask mandate -- requiring their use in airports, on commercial aircraft and on bus and rail systems – through Sept. 13.
  • Attending a county fair: The OC Fair, with its carnival games and array of fried snacks, is set to be held July 16 to Aug. 15. Organizers say masks will be required, capacity will be limited and tickets must be purchased in advance. “It’s probably low-risk if it’s outdoors,” Dr. de St. Maurice says. “If you're worried because some of your children aren’t vaccinated or family members may have risk factors, then try to go at times when it's less crowded. Definitely make sure, regardless, that you are all wearing masks and that you bring hand sanitizer for when you are eating. And if you are eating, try to stay away from crowds while doing it.” Plans for the L.A. County Fair are yet to be finalized.
A trip to Santa Monica Pier is a possibility this summer, as COVID-19 rates decline and the number of people fully vaccinated climbs. For now, though masks are still required. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)
  •  Taking a boat trip: Taking a pleasure cruise on a public boat, whether a whale-watching trip or a journey to Catalina Island, is safest when masking and social distancing are practiced, Dr. De St. Maurice says.“As long as you’re not in a crowded area and you’re staying outdoors, it’s a lot lower risk,” she says. Masks are generally required on public piers, as well.
  •  Joining a pick-up game in the park: Softball and baseball are probably the safest; basketball and soccer less so for physical distancing reasons, Dr. de St. Maurice says. “With softball, you can be a little more spread out,” she says. “Basketball might be a little bit higher risk because you’re in close contact with people. Soccer, too, potentially. Plus, it’s probably harder to wear a mask while playing basketball or soccer.”

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