Out and About?

Questions about the coronavirus if you’re out and about

I'm vaccinated. Is it still risky to go out?

The key is whether you are fully vaccinated — meaning at least two weeks have passed since you received the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after you'd had the one and only shot of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine.

Fully vaccinated people can resume normal activities, indoors and out, without masks, with a few exceptions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are still required on public transportation and in transportation venues such as airports and bus stations. Some sites such as health care facilities and businesses may still require masks and social distancing.

You should still be alert for COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you've been with someone who's sick. If you have symptoms you should avoid others, get tested and follow medical advice. Also, if your immune system is compromised, talk to your health care team about whether you should continue masking and other COVID-19 precautions.

In loosening the masking and social distancing guidelines for fully vaccinated people, the CDC noted that cases of COVID-19 have recently trended downward, research has shown that the vaccines are effective, and experts have learned more about exactly how the virus spreads.

What if I'm not vaccinated?

According to the CDC, you remain at risk of mild or severe illness and of spreading the coronavirus to others. So you should continue to practice COVID-19 precautions including masking, and avoid high-risk situations such as crowded indoor events.

Indoor spaces are riskier because it can be harder to keep distance between people and there is less ventilation, the CDC says. When a person with COVID-19 has been indoors, the coronavirus can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.

Your risk also depends on factors such as whether:

  • COVID-19 is spreading in your community
  • You are likely to be in close contact with others who might be sick or who aren’t wearing masks
  • You need to take public transportation
  • A lot of people will be present
  • You take everyday precautions to protect yourself against the virus
  • You are older and whether you have any medical conditions that put you at greater risk of severe illness

The CDC has the latest information on activities you should avoid and when a mask will make you safer. You can learn more about COVID-19’s spread and severity in your community from local and state health department websites. For a deeper dive into vaccination rates and the coronavirus’s impact in various communities, visit the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker or the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Vaccination is more readily available than it was a few months ago. If you haven't been vaccinated yet, visit vaccines.gov to find a provider near you. And if you feel sick, stay home and evaluate whether you might have COVID-19.

Do I really need to wear a mask?

If you're not fully vaccinated, then yes, you should wear a mask for most activities involving others outside your household. For example, while the CDC says it's safe for you to go unmasked at a small, outdoor gathering where everyone else is fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask if the gathering includes other unvaccinated people.

Wearing masks properly can substantially reduce the amount of virus indoors. Masks are required on any form of public transportation as well as at transportation hubs such as airports and bus terminals. Also, a number of cities and states still require masks to be worn in public settings (AARP is tracking mask mandates by state).

Here’s how to wear a mask, and how to safely take it off. But don’t wear a mask with a valve or vent, the CDC says, because it won’t prevent you from spreading the virus to others.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t wear a mask?

Masks should not be worn by:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance

Can I launder my cloth mask in the washing machine?

You can wash it by machine or by hand. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands any time you remove your mask. If the mask is wet or dirty, store it in a plastic bag and wash it as soon as you can.

Is it safe for my child to go back to school?

The CDC expects to be releasing updated guidelines on schools in the coming weeks. Current information includes details on factors schools should weigh when planning their reopening.
Regarding your child, there are numerous things to consider, including how widespread coronavirus infection is in your community (check your local health department website and the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker), your child’s medical risk and education and transportation needs, preventive measures taken by the school, and your child-care and family circumstances (for instance, if you live with someone at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness).

The CDC offers a comprehensive decision-making tool to help you sort through such concerns. The agency also has checklists to help you plan for both in-person classes and virtual or at-home learning.

Can my kids participate safely in organized sports?

There’s no easy answer — instead, there’s a lot to think about. The CDC outlines various considerations for youth sports — for instance, defining a range of activities from lowest risk (doing drills at home) to greater risk (competition within a single team) to highest risk (full competition between teams from different areas). Parents should also consider whether the sport is indoors, how close players are to each other and for how long, how much equipment is shared and the age of the players, among many other factors. Disinfecting equipment, keeping sick players at home, promoting proper hygiene in the era of the coronavirus and much more are covered here.

As an essential worker, how can I make sure I’m following the latest safety advice?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC provide extensive, occupation-specific guidance to help protect workers against COVID-19. Of course, follow standard safety advice about wearing a mask or cloth face covering, physical distancing, regular handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting workspaces.

Can I visit family and friends?

Yes. But if you're not fully vaccinated, choose the safest way to do so — for instance, a small, outdoor gathering — and you should wear a mask if others there are unvaccinated.
Also, for any event, to help protect your family and friends, don’t go if you feel sick or might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Is it safe to go to the grocery store?

Experts recommend minimizing in-person visits to grocery stores or other stores selling essential goods. If possible, place an order for delivery or for pickup outside.

If you need to go into the store, take the usual COVID-19 precautions, including wearing a mask as recommended and staying at least 6 feet away from others. Go during off-hours, when the store is less likely to be crowded. (Some stores have set special hours for people at risk).

The CDC also advises that you disinfect your cart, follow directional signs or floor markings, sanitize your hands when you enter and leave the store, and wash them thoroughly when you get home.

How about going to restaurants?

Some cities and states have limited dine-in capacity, so you may not have a choice but to get carryout or contactless delivery if you want restaurant food.

If you're fully vaccinated, both indoor and outdoor dining with friends is safe, the CDC says. Dining inside is still considered risky — and masking when not eating is a must — if you're not fully vaccinated.

If you're not vaccinated and you plan to dine in, experts recommend calling ahead to find out if all the restaurant’s workers and patrons are required to wear masks and whether you can park your own car and avoid valet. Try to go when the restaurant is unlikely to be busy, minimize your time there, keep your distance from anyone who doesn’t live with you including in entryways and waiting areas, avoid self-serve food where utensils are shared, and request individual condiment packets to avoid commonly handled items such as salt shakers. Of course, if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home.

I have all kinds of questions about travel. Where do I start?

You’re not alone. From cruise safety to airport worries, the CDC breaks down the guidance. To start, get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can. In general, avoid ocean and river cruises — and if you're not fully vaccinated, avoid any discretionary or non-urgent travel. If you do opt for a cruise, get a COVID-19 test three to five days after the trip, monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days afterward, and self-isolate and test again if you develop symptoms. (If you're not fully vaccinated you should also self-quarantine for seven days after the trip, even if you tested negative.)

If you’d like to travel in the U.S., the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker can show you which states have high rates of coronavirus cases and deaths (look at the “per 100,000” figure). Also, check local and state health department websites. If you're fully vaccinated and traveling within the U.S., you won't need to get tested before or after your trip or self-quarantine after travel.
Many other countries have COVID-testing requirements or other restrictions, or even an outright ban on visitors from the U.S. The State Department provides country-by-country information, and the CDC has assessments of COVID-19 risk for different countries. To board an international flight to the U.S., you will still need to provide documentation of a negative test result or that you've recovered from coronavirus infection.

What about routine medical, dental or vision appointments if I’m not sick?

The health care landscape has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic. Some clinics and offices might have closed. Most others have developed careful protocols — often posted on their websites — to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These can include closing or changing the setup of the waiting room, requiring use of hand sanitizers and face masks, and asking about symptoms beforehand or checking your temperature on arrival.

Contact the health care professional you’d like to visit about your health care needs and whether a telemedicine or in-person appointment is needed. (The American Heart Association offers tips on reconnecting with your health care team.)

Should I let my child go on a play date or have a sleepover?

Probably not yet. The more people your child interacts with, and the longer time spent doing so, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread, the CDC says. So reducing the number of people your child interacts with (other than people within your household) can reduce the risk of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years and older. So if your child can get vaccinated, that will open the door to spending more time with others outside your household.

How do I stay safe at the gym?

If you're fully vaccinated, you can resume normal activities, the CDC says. If you're not yet fully vaccinated, find out if the gym has implemented prevention measures such as plexiglass barriers, mask requirements and closing of shared locker space. Look for outside exercise options or virtual classes, and limit attendance at indoor group classes, while maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask whenever possible. (The CDC provides details.)

Also, go at off-times, and change and shower at home.

Open windows where available in the gym to increase air flow. Wipe down shared equipment and avoid using items that can’t be adequately sanitized, such as resistance bands. And of course, stay home if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

What are some other ways to fit in fitness?

Start by setting your fitness goals. Work out in your home office (check out recorded workouts and other resources on our Move More Together page, or create your own circuit workout at home). Practice balance exercises in your living room and get out for a walk.

I feel fine. What can I do to help others?

First, you can accept the AHA’s thanks. We're all in this together and we should help others when we can. Remember, though, that you can feel fine and still carry the virus — possibly even after you're vaccinated. So staying away from others may be the best help you can offer. But there are many virtual opportunities to help and other ways to stay connected. Here are some ideas. You can also check with your local charities, governments and other groups. And if you know a neighbor is homebound or older or doesn’t have family in the area, continue to reach out and see what you can do.