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Vaccinated And Confused In Kansas City? How To Decide Whether An Activity Is Safe

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Stephan Bisaha
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Kansas News Service
Es poco probable que los restaurantes y bares vuelvan a cerrar una vez más durante la pandemia.

Outdoor activities and small get-togethers are relatively safe, but getting the vaccine and wearing a mask remain the best way to protect against the virus.

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In Kansas and Missouri, COVID-19 cases are back up to levels not seen since last winter. Hospitals around the metro are full and understaffed. Meanwhile, vaccination rates are still lower than the national average of 51%, with only 44% of Missourians and Kansans fully vaccinated.

But unlike earlier days of the pandemic, businesses are open and many people are back to work. While some local governments and school districts have reinstated mask mandates, some parts of the metro are not covered by mask orders. And other pandemic measures like social distancing requirements, stay-at-home orders and business closures aren’t likely to come back.

So with things mostly open, how can vaccinated people protect themselves in their day-to-day lives? Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an expert on infectious diseases and vaccines and the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, explains how to assess health risks in a rapidly changing environment

How should I decide whether to go out?

Despite the spread of the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19, vaccines — and now their boosters — remain the best way to protect against the virus.

“If there’s one thing that we can do to protect ourselves, it is to be vaccinated,” Jackson says.

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Courtesy University of Missouri-Kansas City
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Dr. Mary Anne Jackson.

But if you’re vaccinated, there are still a few questions to ask before attending an event or meeting people outside your household:

  • Is the activity indoors or outdoors? Events that take place outdoors, or indoors with masks and social distancing, are safer than indoor events with people who are unmasked.
  • How many people will be there? Hanging out with a smaller group where you know everyone is vaccinated is safer than going to a crowded venue where you don’t know everyone’s vaccination status.
  • Do you have any underlying medical conditions? Are you immunocompromised or otherwise at risk of severe illness if you get the virus?
  • Who do you live with? If someone in your household is more vulnerable to the virus, you should be more careful.
  • Are you in an area with low transmission rates? “If you are in Kansas City, Missouri, the answer is ‘no,’ you are in a transmission-high area,” Jackson says.

For example, Jackson says, sitting outdoors at a restaurant with another couple is fairly low risk. Going to the gym is also likely to be low risk, although you won’t know whether your fellow gymgoers are vaccinated. “It’s a relatively small population. You’re usually distanced from each other and you can keep your mask on,” Jackson says.

A baseball or football game, however, might be higher risk, even if you’re outdoors. “You’re talking about being with 40 to 70,000 of your not-so-closest friends,” Jackson says. “You’re still going to be in close contact, and there’s a lot of shouting and cheering.”

Of course, if you’re unvaccinated, you’re much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people, regardless of what precautions you take.

“Unvaccinated individuals still are at the very highest risk for infection,” Jackson says. “Unvaccinated adults are infecting children too young to be vaccinated, and those who are not responding as well to the vaccine as others, like the immunocompromised population.”

Will we see lockdowns again?

In Missouri, a law passed earlier this year limits the ability of local public health officials to make pandemic restrictions, like vaccine passports and business closures. Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt has sued Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis and St. Louis County — among the most Democratic parts of the state — to prevent them from implementing new mask orders.

In Kansas, the Republican-dominated legislature limited the power of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to make statewide pandemic health restrictions. A lawsuit over the issue is making its way through the state court system. Legislators also passed a law requiring schools to offer full-time, in-person options.

So it’s unlikely that the area will once again see sweeping pandemic measures like stay-at-home orders and bar and restaurant closures. Jackson doesn’t believe shutdowns are necessary to end the pandemic, but vaccines are.

“Vaccine mandates make sense when the health and welfare of a population is at risk from a public health threat,” she says. “And we can easily argue that we’re way, way beyond that.”

She expects more businesses, universities and health care providers will require workers and students to get vaccinated.

“I don’t think this will ever spread to a general recommendation across the population,” she says. “Our politics are so polarizing in this country.”

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