Lifting COVID-19 restrictions: Q&A with Swedish experts

July 7, 2021 Swedish Health Team

Key takeaways:

  • More people in Washington state are getting vaccinated and some restrictions are lifting.
  • Even with more people vaccinated, many have valid concerns about safety and responsibility for others’ health and well-being.
  • Our experts answer your questions about how to avoid infections and how to deal with anxiety about the changing guidelines.

[6 MIN READ]

A return to social activities is a welcome change for many after more than a year of quarantining, social distancing, and other adjustments we’ve made to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, transitions can be tough. After spending so much time looking out for our own and others’ health and safety, we know many people are worried about making this shift.

As vaccinations continue and restrictions begin to lift across Washington state (and the country), many people who are fully vaccinated can return to many of the activities that were a normal part of life before the pandemic struck. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you’re considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

We talked with two Swedish experts about how to handle what comes next.  

  • Evan Sylvester is our regional director of infection prevention. A key part of his role is to keep our caregivers and community members safe during all stages of the pandemic.
  • Helen Zhang, M.D., specializes in psychotherapy. She has seen firsthand how patients have been affected mentally during the pandemic and recognizes that many are nervous to begin socializing in this next phase.

Here, they both give their perspectives on physical safety and the social-emotional concerns that are top-of-mind as we emerge from the pandemic.

Q+A with Evan Sylvester: COVID-19 safety precautions as restrictions lift

What is safe to do once you’re fully vaccinated?

Getting the vaccine is one of the single most important steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Once you are fully vaccinated, be sure to follow the CDC recommendations for safe activities.

Now that restrictions are lifting, is it more or less safe to go out in public?

This all depends on the risks and benefits and current COVID transmission. In general, individuals need to look at the risk of exposure in whatever activity they are doing and weigh it with the relative benefit. The risk becomes less as people layer on safety precautions including vaccinations, masking, physical distancing, outdoor vs. indoor activities, small or large gatherings and being around other vaccinated individuals. The vaccine is the best means of keeping you safe and protecting you and others against COVID. Lastly, it’s very important for people to keep in mind that as restrictions on social activities begin to lift, there are still many requirements – like masking and limits to visitors – that all healthcare facilities must continue to follow according to state orders.

What advice would you give people who are nervous about the restrictions lifting from a safety perspective? 

If you have been fully vaccinated, there is increasing data that shows that the vaccine can reduce the risk of infections — with or without symptoms — or reduce how severe your symptoms are. There is also data showing the vaccine can reduce the virus spreading to others. As the incidence of COVID-19 comes down in our area and vaccination rates go up, we become safer and can start getting back to what we love doing.

What should people keep doing to stay safe from COVID-19? 

As Washington state begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions this summer, the public should not assume everything is back to normal and COVID-19 is defeated. Many states and counties are still in a public health emergency. For people who aren’t vaccinated, there’s a higher risk of becoming infected, especially with more COVID-19 variants developing.

For people who aren’t vaccinated, there’s a higher risk of becoming infected, especially with more COVID-19 variants developing.

While the state may be removing restrictions on gatherings (except large indoor events), current masking guidelines will still be in place:

  • In healthcare settings
  • At homeless shelters
  • In schools
  • While using public transportation
  • If you’re unvaccinated or partially vaccinated

It is also recommended that you wear a mask at large gatherings (especially if you are unsure of everyone’s vaccination status), practice physical distancing when you can, continue to use good hand hygiene, avoid contact with sick people and get tested if you notice any symptoms.

While the vaccine is very effective, it’s not 100%. This means some vaccinated people will still end up catching the virus, which is called a “vaccine breakthrough.”

Q+A with Helen Zhang, M.D.: COVID-19 social responsibility as restrictions lift

How do we handle the social etiquette when it comes to wearing or not wearing a mask?

The social etiquette around masking in businesses or social situations where masking is optional remains in flux. It’s largely based on personal comfort levels and the situation at hand. Ultimately, when in doubt, it’s safer to mask up when your comfort or others’ comfort is in question. Do what is safest and best for you regardless of what you see others around you doing.

Always be sure to follow the CDC guidance required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance, regardless of your vaccination status. 

Always be sure to follow the CDC guidance required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance, regardless of your vaccination status. As of early summer 2021, the CDC says masks are still required while using any form of public transportation. And in Washington state, masks are required in health care settings. Guidance is rapidly changing, so be sure to check the CDC website and the Washington Department of Health regularly.

What advice do you have for people who are nervous about restrictions lifting from a mental health perspective?

While the CDC has lifted many restrictions for people who are vaccinated, it’s understandable that many continue to feel anxious about these recent changes. It’s perfectly okay to keep abiding by measures that make you feel safe. This is especially true if you need and want to protect family and community members who have health concerns or who are unvaccinated such as young children.

It’s completely normal for people to feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions.

For many, the most yearned-for outcome of the restrictions being lifted is the chance to reconnect with loved ones and communities in ways that feel “normal” — without the barriers of masks and virtual meeting rooms. At the same time, it’s completely normal for people to feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions. There are many reasons for that, including safety concerns, pandemic PTSD and lingering symptoms of anxiety and depression. These may have become more significant over the past year.

A return to 'normal' activities will take time

Normal will need to be redefined. That’s going to be a process in itself. Go at a rate that feels right to you. If you can, take time to check in with yourself and those around you.

And, just as important, keep asking questions.

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Find a doctor

With some COVID-19 restrictions lifting in Washington state, you may be feeling anxious or concerned about symptoms or social situations. If you’d like to speak with a mental health provider or a primary care doctor, you can find one through our provider directory.

Related resources

Updated COVID-19 safety guidelines for fully vaccinated people

A healthy social life is good for your health

Still on the fence about getting vaccinated?

Our continuing commitment to your safety

Are you languishing?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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