PHILADELPHIA — Getting vaccinated comes as a huge relief. You finally have physical protection against a virus that has haunted us for over a year.

Naturally, you’re probably thinking about what you’re going to do first. Once two weeks have passed following your second dose (or one Johnson & Johnson dose), you’re considered fully vaccinated.

At this point, what activities are considered ‘safe’ to resume?

It’s complicated.

While the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine is perfect, and there are still millions of people who have yet to get their shots. This makes the answers to questions about risk often complex.

The good news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started releasing some post-vaccination guidance and is expected to continue to expand on this front. So far, they’ve declared it’s safe to hang out with other vaccinated people once you’re fully vaccinated. They’ve also declared it “low risk” to travel domestically once fully vaccinated. But what about things like going to the gym, the movies, or an outdoor ballgame? Is it really safe to get on an airplane right now?

“With most activities, you’re expanding your bubble, and that’s the whole point of being vaccinated. But we’re seeing variants that have more transmissibility — it takes less virus to get sick, and we’re seeing this in children now, too,” says Meenakshi Bewtra, a Penn Medicine physician and an assistant professor of epidemiology and of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “So you want to think about who could be in that other bubble, including those who may be unvaccinated and considered high risk, and also the fact that although these vaccines are very effective, there’s still the small chance you could get infected.”

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How to assess risk after getting the vaccine

There are a ton of factors that play a role in assessing risk for every situation, and experts don’t all agree on exact risk levels for each post-vaccine activity. But there are two areas that generally aren’t debated:

1. You’re in a safer position once fully vaccinated.

2. Still, until more people are protected, we should proceed cautiously to protect both ourselves and others.

So what does this all mean? It means that once you’re fully vaccinated, it’s unlikely you need to be nervous about venturing to the grocery store. But you do need to continue to wear masks and social distance in most public situations. Outdoor activities remain generally preferable to indoor ones. And you should continue to avoid large crowds.

“The good news is, even in the unlikely case where someone gets an infection after a vaccine, their likelihood of a serious infection requiring hospitalization is very low based on the data we have so far,” says Ayiti-Carmel Maharaj-Best, an assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Pennsylvania. “But until we achieve herd immunity, we still have to be vigilant to protect those who have not yet received the vaccine.”

How safe are everyday activities? Experts rank them:

To help guide you further, we asked seven experts to rank everyday activities from low to high risk. All rankings assume you’re fully vaccinated and following appropriate precautionary measures, like masking and distancing. One caveat: Risk levels are never clear-cut and will fluctuate depending on what’s going on in your area.

“With any activity, it’s going to be very dependent on how much COVID is in your community and what percentage of your community is also vaccinated,” says Bewtra.

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Consider this a starting baseline, and as always, assess your own situation accordingly.

Expert sources

  • Meenakshi Bewtra, MD, MPH, is a Penn Medicine physician and an assistant professor of epidemiology and of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Ayiti-Carmel Maharaj-Best, MD, is an assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Darren Mareiniss, MD, is an emergency medicine doctor at Einstein Medical Center.
  • Amita Avadhani, Ph.D., DNP, CNE, DCC, ACNP-BC, NP-C, CCRN, FAANP, FCCM is an ICU nurse practitioner and professor at Rutgers School of Nursing.
  • Henry Raymond, DrPH, MPH, is an associate professor and epidemiologist at Rutgers University.
  • Usama Bilal, MD, Ph.D., MPH, is an assistant professor in the urban health collaborative and the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University.
  • Krys Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, is an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Temple University.

Scale: 1-4; 1. Low risk 2. Low to medium risk 3. Medium to high risk 4. High risk

**All rankings assume you’re fully vaccinated and following appropriate precautionary measures, like masking and distancing.

Going to the gym

Average: 2.6 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 4; Lowest score: 2

“[This is] high risk, unless we can follow masking, disinfecting, and social distancing guidelines effectively, [which] is difficult to do this even under the best of circumstances in a gym.”

Avadhani

“Distance and masking are especially crucial here, with the heavy breathing, jumping, and other movements that could allow particles to travel further distances.”

Maharaj-Best

“I’d consider this low to medium risk if you have a rather large gym with good ventilation, but medium to high risk if it’s a small community gym, which likely has less ventilation.”

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Johnson

Going to a group exercise class (indoors)

Average: 3.1 (medium to high risk)

Highest score: 4; Lowest score: 2

“I think indoor group exercise is higher risk than the gym because there’s generally less room to socially distance. And with most exercise, the amount of exhale is higher than in everyday activities.”

Bewtra

“The higher the intensity of the activity, the more likely there will be heavy breathing, misplaced masks, and particles spewing around the room. I’d say low impact classes like yoga and Pilates are reasonably safe, but I would not recommend a group boot camp.”

Maharaj-Best

Going to a group exercise class (outdoors)

Average: 1.4 (low risk)

Highest score: 2; Lowest score: 1

“Almost anything outdoors and masked is going to be very low risk, so encourage your local exercise class instructors to get outside.”

Johnson

“Outdoor classes allow for excellent air circulation. Wearing a mask with social distancing would minimize infectious risk.”

Mareiniss

Running outside without a mask

Average: 1 (low risk)

Highest score: 1; Lowest score: 1

“Running with a group would increase the risk of infection.”

Mareiniss

“Always carry a mask with you.”

Bewtra

“[If alone], you’re likely not sharing air with anyone, so this is very low risk. That said, the Schuylkill River Trail gets narrow and crowded in some areas, so avoid these areas if you’re going maskless, for your sake and others.”

Johnson

Going to a museum

Average: 1.7 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 2; Lowest score: 1

“Most museums are large and open, with plenty of room for shared air. But if eating or drinking is allowed inside, this goes up to medium to high risk or even high risk in the eating area.”

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Johnson

“Risk will depend on the ventilation in the museum and number of people. Generally, with social distancing and masks, I would consider it to be an acceptable risk.”

Mareiniss

Going to a movie (indoors)

Average: 2.1 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 3; Lowest score: 1

“You need to wear a mask and keep that mask on — so no popcorn or drinks.”

Bewtra

“This depends on a number of factors including the ventilation in the theater, the duration of exposure, and concentration of people. If the vaccinated individual removes their mask to eat or drink, I would consider such activity to be high risk.”

Mareiniss

“There’s no way to know once the lights go out if people keep their masks on. Skip the theaters for now — too much unknown.”

Johnson

Taking an Uber/taxi

Average: 2.1 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 3; Lowest score: 2

*One expert ranked the risk as 2 with the windows down; 3 with the windows up

“Limiting passengers to the back seat and having the windows down would help to further decrease risk.”

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Maharaj-Best

“If the driver is masked and the windows are down, this is a ‘2’. If either of those aren’t true, this is a ‘3’. If both are not true, cancel your ride.”

Johnson

Going to church / a place of worship

Average: 2.4 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 3; Lowest score: 2

“In some of these older churches, the ventilation might not be as good. If the windows are open, there’s no singing, and you’re socially distancing, you can mitigate some of that risk. But any kind of choir is going to make it riskier.”

Bewtra

“Most churches are doing socially distanced, fully masked services, some even with reservations. This is low to medium risk but if you’re doing more close-quarters fellowshipping, I’d escalate it to medium to high risk. Be very careful to minimize time in relatively small, shared spaces like the restroom.”

Johnson

Going to an outdoor ballgame

Average: 1.9 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 3; Lowest score: 1

“Philly sports fans are known for letting their passion show. Screaming and cheering can theoretically increase the particles emitted, so distance and masking is critical.”

Maharaj-Best

“I would keep the mask up in between eating.”

Bewtra

“[Risk] also depends on whether we are talking about risk for the individual or the population. Going to a ballgame seems like a very low risk activity for [a vaccinated] individual, but since it involves a lot of people it may be higher risk for the city.”

Bilal

Going to a restaurant (indoors)

Average: 3.6 (medium to high risk)

Highest score: 4; Lowest score: 2

“Because masks are off, distance is extra important here. Also, choosing who you dine with. If you are with your household or with a small group of vaccinated friends, that may be reasonably safe if appropriately distanced from other tables.”

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Maharaj-Best

“With current capacity allowances, there are too many people in a confined space sharing the same air. This is of particular concern with the variants which have shown potential to infect fully vaccinated people.”

Johnson

Going to a restaurant (outdoors)

Average: 1.4 (low risk)

Highest score: 2; Lowest score: 1

“The circulating air outdoors acts to limit the risk of exposure and infection.”

Mareiniss

“Mask up when your server comes because you don’t know their vaccination status, but if everyone at your table is vaccinated and you can eat outside, that’s a great way to enjoy eating at a restaurant safely.”

Bewtra

Grocery shopping

Average: 1.4 (low risk)

Highest score: 2; Lowest score: 1

“Minimize time in the store.”

Avadhani

“Try to go shopping at off-peak times and go with a list.”

Johnson

Retail shopping

Average: 1.4 (low risk)

Highest score: 2; Lowest score: 1

“If the fitting rooms are open to each other above and below, I’d try to keep the mask on as much as you can. You need to assess the situation, and act accordingly.”

Bewtra

“Try to avoid weekend shopping when possible.”

Johnson

Traveling by plane

Average: 2.7 (low to medium risk)

Highest score: 4; Lowest score: 2

“Although the ventilation systems on airplanes are very good, the social distancing isn’t happening anymore. Even if they’re serving drinks or foods, I’d keep my mask on the whole time.”

Bewtra

“Double up on masks, try not to use the plane lavatory, eat before or after your flight, and point the above seat fan directly down to keep air flow going throughout the flight. Also try to fly at off-peak times or fly airlines that have reduced capacity due to the pandemic.”

Johnson

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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