Ready for some summer fun? A guide to what's safe as COVID-19 lingers
Note: This article was updated after the July 15 announcement that Los Angeles County would re-instate its indoor masking guidance.
While a gradual return to a more normal summer is underway, COVID-19 and the highly contagious Delta variant are still making some activities more risky than others.
Though California fully reopened its economy in June, dropping masking and distancing mandates in alignment with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols, Los Angeles County health officials announced on July 15 that masks would once again be required indoors to combat a new spike in cases.
The latest mask rules, which go into effect at 11:59 p.m. July 17, apply to all residents regardless of vaccination status.
Cases surged 261% over a two-week period, almost entirely among unvaccinated people and due predominantly to the Delta variant.
Still, the overall transmission rate in California remains far lower than at the peak in January. More than half of all state residents - 51.8% - are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
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.
We asked Dr. de St. Maurice for her perspective on other popular summer activities:
- Going to an outdoor concert: The Hollywood Bowl has reopened after the pandemic forced its closure in 2020 for the first time in its 98-year history. Capacity was lifted in July, 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 inside buildings, for the unvaccinated, 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.” The L.A. County Fair will resume in May 2022.
- 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.
- 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.”