Easing out of pandemic restrictions

West End Healthline

By Marquise Hopson, MD
 We’ve all heard it on the news and some have seen it with our own eyes: COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are trending down within our state. So much so that on May 13, Minnesota aligned with the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on face masks, with Governor Walz announcing an end to statewide face covering requirement for fully vaccinated persons indoors or outdoors. These evolving changes are undoubtedly an exciting signal that the end of this nearly eighteen-month pandemic may be in sight. But with important public health changes, come important questions about what might be safe or recommended this season. Below is information to serve as a basic guide to easing back into “normal” activities this summer based on what we currently know from the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).*
What can I do differently now with a vaccine?
According to the CDC, if you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
What does it mean to be “fully vaccinated”?
You are not fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after the 2nd dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after a one-dose vaccine. This is the time it typically takes for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19. Protect not only yourself but also your loved ones who cannot or may not be vaccinated. Delay travel until you are fully vaccinated. 
What about wearing a mask?
As mentioned above, Gov. Walz announced an end to statewide face covering requirement for fully vaccinated persons both indoors and outdoors. However, Minnesotans who are not fully vaccinated are strongly recommended to wear face coverings indoors. Private businesses or municipalities may still have in place face masking requirements.  Also, keep in mind that locations deemed high risk such as healthcare settings currently require workers and patients/visitors to continue to follow masking and physical distancing guidelines determined by the healthcare network as a private business.
Is there anything else I can do to protect myself from getting sick?
Keep washing your hands, especially before touching your eyes or mouth. And continue to refill and use the alcohol-based sanitizers that you’ve carried around for the past year. If you are feeling unwell at all, stay home and delay travel until you are feeling better. 
Miscellaneous tips
• Remember there are plenty of other infections that can mimic or even overlap with COVID-19 symptoms.  Seasonal allergies, strep throat, sinus infections, colds, influenza and more conditions are still out there and you may experience them when you begin exploring more outside of pandemic lockdown. Some of these conditions have been decreasing since most of the public have been masking, distancing and washing their hands since last March, but with little herd immunity built up they are likely to spread more quickly as people return to normal social activities.
• As we return to public pools and crowded beaches, we must remember the importance of sunscreen for preventing skin cancer, no matter your complexion or the duration of your exposure. Some complexions are more vulnerable to skin problems than others, but, skin cancer can affect us all any time we are outside and is preventable.
If you have health questions or concerns, check in with your primary care doctor. Don’t have one? Call your insurance provider to find one in network. Don’t have insurance? Visit your local community clinic to establish care.
Need a COVID vaccine? Call the MDH Appointment hotline 833-431-2053 or visit https://bit.ly/3wnFKfl. 
*Disclaimer: The CDC, MDH and local municipality recommendations are evolving. Information may be updated since this article was sent to press. Be sure to check for the most recent advisories published by each of these entities, especially if you are traveling soon. 
Marquise Hopson, MD, is a family physician at Allina Health United Family Physicians. To schedule an appointment, call 651-241-5200.

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