As summer arrives, simchas are starting to pop up all over the place. Even while writing this article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made an announcement regarding mask protocol, and an update to this story was necessary. The positive news is we are starting to see more synagogues, nonprofits, theaters, weddings, mitzvahs and other simchas happening.
Regarding the partying landscape, Dr. Richard Prokesch, an infectious disease specialist, said, “There has been an encouraging trend locally and nationally for the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas there was a slight bump in cases post spring break, fortunately there was not yet another surge. The question is: is it time to party?”
Prokesch continued, “The latest CDC recommendations for gatherings are that fully vaccinated persons at least two weeks after the second doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine no longer need to wear a mask or socially distance in any setting unless required by local government or business regulations.
“The vaccines work! Thus, indoor and outdoor activities pose minimal risk to those who are fully vaccinated. Also, it is fine to visit with unvaccinated households, including children from a single household that is low risk for COVID-19 infection, again without masks or social distancing. The personal comfort level of the individual supersedes the CDC guidelines.”
So, what does that really mean for simchas? “Whereas it is not yet time to party like it’s 2019, we can begin to enjoy celebrations with our friends and families” following the CDC guidelines, he wrote in an email to the AJT. “For instance, a moderately sized outdoor wedding is safe, especially if all attendees are fully vaccinated. Indoor events such as bar or bat mitzvahs still require continued vigilance despite the latest CDC guidelines. If the numbers are relatively small and all are vaccinated, then again, no mask or social distancing will be required, but if there are a number of unvaccinated children and adults then the more prudent approach would be masking and distancing as much as possible. Whereas the CDC recommendations did not address it in detail, persons with any immunosuppression such as cancer patients on chemotherapy, even if vaccinated, should still practice masking and social distancing as many of those persons do not mount an immune response to the vaccine.”
He added. “The CDC also states that it’s now safe to fly if you are fully vaccinated. It appears to me that the planes are relatively safe. I worry most about crowded airports, where I would recommend masking and distancing as much as feasible.
‘‘Also based on CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit, yes and hug, their grandchildren without masks. At this point I do not believe that herd immunity should be a part of the discussion as it does not appear that we will achieve it,” he wrote.
“Typically herd immunity says that 70% or more of the population is immune either from having been infected with COVID-19 or being vaccinated. To date only about 28% of the total Georgia population are vaccinated although about 65% of those 65 or older have been,” he continued.
“Our vaccine supply is such that we are close if not there to having enough vaccine for all those that are willing to be vaccinated. The problem is that there are a significant number that do not want to receive the vaccine for a number of reasons. Vaccination has made a difference with a downward trend in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. It works!”
According to another infectious disease specialist, Dr. Mitchell Blass, “I think that as more and more people are vaccinated, or have had COVID and thus (to a reasonable degree of medical certainty) are immune, the more we can move back to our pre-pandemic state of normalcy, whatever that was.”
As for the boundaries, Dr. Blass added, “I feel very comfortable going out and about, in the manner in which I did prior to COVID. I have been vaccinated. I believe the vaccination works,” he wrote in an email to the AJT. “I understand the concern about flying and a great deal depends on the vaccination and/or immune status of the traveler. There will always be a risk for infection with any number of diseases that can be acquired while traveling.
“COVID is just the latest among many pathogens that have the potential of airborne transmission in an airplane. Get on a plane if you wish. Enjoy your life the way you did prior to December of 2019. Higher volume in airports and vacation crowds increase the risk of many conditions, however, get vaccinated and enjoy life.”
From Zooming to resuming in person, it is starting to look a lot more like simchas and partying will cautiously continue. Be sure to check CDC guidelines, www.cdc.gov, for up- to-the minute status of what is advisable. We blink and if we have learned anything for certain, the guidelines for gatherings can and will potentially change without notice.