8.30.2021: The COVID-19 Delta variant has brought a new twist to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. In the spring of 2021, just as many towns and states were beginning to return to normal activities due to widespread vaccinations and declining hospitalizations and infection rates, the highly transmissible Delta variant took hold, thrusting the country into its fourth pandemic wave.
Government, school and health officials have had to adjust their reopening plans and federal authorities with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) issued new recommendations for masking to keep people safe.
So where are we now as fall approaches, schools reopen, football season starts and people cast a cautious eye ahead to the festive portion of the year — Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.?
As was the case in the spring, it all depends. It depends on where you live, what facilities and events you’re talking about, and what the vaccination rate is where you live or want to visit.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how schools, sports teams, arts organizations and the transportation world are dealing with the current outbreak. And, as always, everything is subject to change. Keep paying attention to your respective local and state news.
After more than a year of quarantining and masking and working from home and learning from home and streaming every episode of every movie and TV series ever made, nearly everyone is itching badly for this pandemic to be over.
In mid-March 2021, two states, Texas and Mississippi, declared themselves 100% open and dropped all pandemic restrictions. And while many other states and municipalities are proceeding with much greater degrees of caution, with the increasing number of Americans having been vaccinated, the opening up of everything is drawing near. In the last week of April alone:
- The CDC revised its masking and social-gathering guidelines.
- Disneyland reopened to California residents only, with limited capacity, and masking, distancing and indoor ride-line capacity in effect.
- The Atlanta Braves announced that they’ll go back to full capacity at their ball park.
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intention to have the city fully reopened for business by June 30.
- Speaking of NYC, producers of several Broadway shows announced that they plan for the lights to go on and the curtains to rise by early fall. Some of the larger shows are hoping to be back by Labor Day weekend.
However, the explosion of COVID-19 in India in April and May, with global-record numbers of both new cases and deaths, stressed the continuing need for caution. As Delta Airlines was reopening its middle seats for booking effective May 1 – the last major airline to do so – the TSA extended its mask mandate for plane, train and bus passengers through mid-September.
Here’s a quick breakdown of reopening agendas for schools, offices, restaurants and entertainment venues. And again, everything is subject to change. Keep paying attention to your respective local and state news.
Students benefit from in-person learning, and the CDC has made it a priority to safely return K-12 students to the classrooms this fall.
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy, but many students are too young (under age 12) to receive the COVID-19 shots under current federal guidance. Thus, the CDC emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, other household members and to support in-person learning. The strategies recommended by the CDC include:
- Universal masking for all students ages 2 and older, as well as teachers, staff and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
- Schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When that’s not possible, it’s especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.
- Other important layers of prevention, such as screening testing, ventilation, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
- Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).
Many places of employment have brought employees back to their offices in recent months, but others still are doing business remotely. As the summer of 2021 rolled along, many businesses, especially government departments in several states, returned to on-site work – but with mandates for masking, vaccinations and/or testing. Since every business and government has its own sets of rules, check official websites and the news for the latest guidelines.
The CDC has updated its workplace COVID prevention strategies, with guidelines on post-vaccine considerations, testing and contact tracing in non-health care workplaces, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
There are also pages with guidelines for restaurant and bar owners, other food services, personal services and hospitality, transportation and other industries.
In addition, there are pages for employees considering or preparing a return to work, with topics such as coping with stress (including a separate page addressing the stress health care workers face) and managing workplace fatigue. Other related workplace subjects addressed by the CDC include heat stress prevention, testing in non-health care workplaces, coronavirus tax relief and economic impact.
Just in time for summer 2021, restaurants and bars, which were hurt badly by the pandemic, began ramping up for a season of dining, socializing and other activities only to have their plans derailed by the Delta variant. Many reinstituted rules for masking and social distancing and declining patronage continues to hurt them financially.
Mandatory masking and other COVID-19-related rules for restaurants and bars can be very localized and vary widely.
In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order in early August 2021 allowing each municipality to choose on their own whether to implement mask mandates. New Haven, Yale’s hometown, was the first municipality in the state to require people to wear masks indoors at any public establishment – restaurants, bars, theaters and office buildings. (One Elm City restaurant, Bar, announced that customers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.) Two other cities followed suit; the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, also implemented mask mandates at all indoor public venues (also including grocery stores and gyms), and Stamford requires masks indoors or at any outdoor gathering of more than 100 people.
No matter where you live, if you plan to go out to eat or drink or shop or work out or otherwise be merry, check your venue’s website and be aware of any local rules for COVID-19 issued by a town or city.
Dec. 22, 2021: Arts organizations seeking to reopen or maintain their current business or performance schedules are advised to take the following measures to keep their patrons safe and limit the spread of COVID-19.
- Require the wearing of masks indoors. Masks should be worn so that both the mouth and nose are covered with a tight seal in accordance with CDC guidance.
- Require patrons to show proof of vaccination prior to attending an event. Or, in cases where individuals are not vaccinated, proof must be shown that patrons have tested negative for COVID-19 in the past 48 hours.
- All performers, staff and volunteers should be required to be fully vaccinated to protect themselves, their colleagues and patrons. Booster shots for all performers, staff and volunteers are also strongly advised and encouraged.
- Physical distancing should be maintained in crowded indoor areas.
- Air cleaners and adequate indoor air ventilation should be provided. More information on indoor ventilation guidance can be found on this Yale School of Public Health website.
- Regular cleaning and disinfecting of art venue spaces after each performance is advised. A list of appropriate commercial disinfectants for public spaces can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
- Performers or staff members who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves immediately even if they don’t have symptoms, according to current CDC guidelines. Other performers and staff who may have been exposed to the infected person need not quarantine immediately if they are vaccinated unless they have symptoms. Those other individuals should monitor themselves and get tested and wear masks for 14 days following exposure.