Veena Chawla, MD, is a primary care physician board-certified in family medicine practicing at Inova Primary Care – Shirlington. She believes in preventive healthcare and specializes in the treatment of acute and chronic conditions in teens and adults.
Businesses and schools may be open, but “getting back to normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t an easy task. As COVID variants continue to surface and information constantly shifts, many people have questions about what’s safe and appropriate when it comes to rejoining their communities.
To help you out, we’re answering seven common questions about staying safe as you return to normal:
1. Do I Still Need to Get Vaccinated if Most of the Population Is Vaccinated?
You may be feeling a sense of security because others have been vaccinated, but unvaccinated people are still at high risk for both COVID-19 itself and variants of COVID. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still learning how many people need to be vaccinated for the population to be protected (herd immunity).
Getting vaccinated is still the best defense against COVID-19. Research shows that vaccination helps minimize the risk of acquiring the infection and lessens the effects of COVID-19 if you become infected. There is still no strong evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine poses risks outside of the usual risk associated with most other vaccines, and now there is an FDA-approved vaccine available.
If you’ve avoided vaccination because of a chronic condition or autoimmune disease, make an appointment to speak with your primary care physician (PCP) or specialist provider. Your PCP knows your medical history and whether your condition(s) makes you prone to any of the rare complications associated with the vaccine.
2. Is the COVID Vaccine Safe for Pregnant Women or Women of Childbearing Years?
While getting vaccinated is a personal choice, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that eligible women, including pregnant and lactating women, receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
The ACOG also recommends vaccination for women who would like to become pregnant in the future. At this point, there is no scientific evidence directly linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility.
3. If I’m Vaccinated, Are There High-Risk Places I Still Need to Wear a Mask?
The vaccine offers some freedom when it comes to protecting yourself from COVID-19, but no vaccine is 100%. Our understanding of how the vaccine protects against the virus and its variants continues to evolve, so consider taking safety measures when appropriate.
If you are vaccinated, risk of acquiring Covid-19 is generally lower outdoors and in low traffic areas, so there is less need to wear a mask outdoors. If you are in an enclosed space with a tight crowd, such as a concert, sporting event, conference or other area where the risk of transmission is substantial or high, the CDC strongly recommends wearing a mask. This can also include gyms and restaurants.
Masks are currently required for everyone using public transportation and inside government buildings and K-12 schools. Please check your local health department for specific masking requirements.
4. Is It Okay to Put Off Routine Medical Appointments a Little Longer?
Even though there is still a risk of COVID in the community, it’s time to resume your health maintenance. Chronic disease and infection do not wait, so preventive care and basic health checks are vital. If you don’t feel comfortable in the office yet, set up a virtual visit to start getting back on track.
At Inova, all team members, including those working in our physician offices, outpatient services areas, diagnostic testing sites and hospitals are required to have COVID-19 vaccines. At Inova, safety is more than a checklist – it’s part of our culture, the foundation of everything we do, every time, every touch. Learn more about our Safe@Inova program and the precautions in place across all Inova facilities.
It’s also a good idea to schedule upcoming appointments early. Providers are seeing a backlog of patients who put off health screenings and medical appointments during the pandemic, so it may take a while to get on their calendar.
5. Is It Safe to Go to the Dentist?
A dental exam isn’t exactly ideal for social distancing and masking – you’re extremely close to the dentist with your mouth open and COVID-19 does pass through respiratory droplets. The good news is that dentists take every precaution and wear required personal protective equipment (PPE), making the risk of COVID exposure at the dentist very low.
Dentists safeguard themselves (and you) by wearing masks, face shields and gloves. Additionally, most medical professionals are vaccinated to protect both themselves and their patients.
6. Do I Need to Quarantine or Get Tested After Exposure to COVID-19?
The guidelines after exposure depend on your vaccination status:
- If you’re vaccinated: After vaccination, your risk of acquiring the infection is low, even with direct exposure. Quarantine is not recommended unless you are symptomatic. If you develop symptoms, such as fever, headaches or body aches, get tested and quarantine until your results return. But you only need to quarantine if you are symptomatic or positive.
- If you are not vaccinated: After contact with a COVID-positive person, your risk of acquiring the infection is high. Even if you’re asymptomatic, you should get tested and quarantine.
7. If I Had COVID-19, Could I Possibly Have Long COVID and Not Know It?
Long-haul COVID is a range of symptoms persisting for weeks and months after a COVID-19 infection. The symptoms may be neurological, cardiac, respiratory or psychiatric in nature.
Long COVID is noticeably disruptive to a person’s daily life and function, so you’ll likely know if you have it. If you are generally feeling well and able to resume normal function after recovering from COVID-19, there’s no need to stress. But if you have new symptoms or symptoms that aren’t improving, you should see your doctor.
Let Us Help You Get Back to Living
For more information about COVID-19 guidelines, symptoms or vaccination, schedule an appointment with your PCP. If you do not have a PCP, we welcome you make an appointment with a provider at any of our Primary Care locations.