Going Direct: CDC Guidance For The Vaccinated Could Be Bad News For Aviation

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With airshow season coming up, it’s welcome news that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published the eagerly awaited list of what it refers to as “recommendations” for how fully vaccinated people can go about their daily lives.

It’s mostly good news, and most of it, frankly, is just common-sense safety. Among other things, the CDC says, fully vaccinated people can, “…visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing” and “visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.”

The reason for this level of caution for people who are supposedly fully protected from Covid-19 is that experts don’t know how readily those who have been vaccinated might still be able to spread the virus to those who haven’t yet gotten their shot(s) in the arm. So, utilizing rule one for safety, they’re not assuming an unknown to be conveniently true just because it gets them to a better, more popular answer.

With this in mind, the CDC also advises people to, “…take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing,” to avoiding, “…medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings. Like airshows, for example.

In general, the CDC advises that when interacting with non-vaccinated people, the vaccinated should continue to practice regular safety measures, such as wearing masks, keeping a safe physical distance from others, especially when visiting with unvaccinated people in genera,l but especially those who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 or “who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.” Which underscores the advice against hanging out in crowds of people, since you have no way of knowing who’s at risk or lives with at-risk people.

Travel? Well, the CDC is suggesting we avoid non-essential travel, including airline travel, which is for the most part moot if you’re talking international travel, as restrictions persist. For domestic travel, its reasons aren’t as clear. One suspects it might be concerned that travel in general is bad during pandemics, but that ignores the obvious fact that travel is now, if not as safe as it used to be, at least much safer than it was even a couple of months ago.

So, it’s bad news in the short term for aviation if people follow the guidelines, which we don’t expect them to start doing any time soon either in aviation or elsewhere. The problem is, if they don’t follow previous and current guidelines, the news could be even worse.

And remember, this isn’t about how non-vaccinated people should conduct themselves. It’s only for fully vaccinated folks. Every existing safety measure before the new CDC guidance for vaccinated people is still in force.)

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But in terms of the vaccinated, how big a number are we talking about? It’s getting up there. As of the latest figures we can get, around 25% of United States residents have gotten at least partially vaccinated, and around 12% have gotten fully vaccinated—as you probably know, most of those people who were initially vaccinated with the first of two-dose vaccines need to wait a few weeks to get their second shot. In the case of the Moderna vaccine, the wait is four weeks between shots. So, expect those figures to balloon over the next couple of weeks as second shots are put into waiting arms around the country.

Getting vaccinated is a good thing for public life getting back to something resembling normal. Ultimately, if we’re successful in eradicating the virus, it will mean a near-total resumption of business and pleasure as usual. Again, that’s if we get rid of it entirely. 

How likely is that? At this point, it’s hard to be too optimistic. There remains a vocal and possibly entrenched minority of people who are saying “no” to the coronavirus vaccine for one of a number of different reasons. Unfortunately, it’s a big enough minority that experts fear without cutting that number substantially, it will be hard to get to a level of herd immunity, to the point that anything beyond isolated outbreaks are unlikely.

In aviation, how do our chances look? It’s hard to say. No statistics exist for how many pilots of any certification level have been vaccinated, fully or not, and it’s nearly impossible to hazard a good guess. Aviators are older than the wider population, so one would assume that pilots would be vaccinated earlier, as age is one of the primary risk factors with getting a severe case of COVID-19.

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On the other hand, pilots skew to the conservative side of the political coin, and conservatives, experts say, are far less likely to get the vaccinations than others, though they’re certainly not unique in this regard.

My second shot of the Dolly Parton (Moderna) vaccine is at the end of the month. I thought about traveling to Sun ’n Fun for the show, though I wouldn’t be able to be there at the start, as you need to wait two full weeks after that second shot to get the benefits. But after the passing of longtime AOPA journalist (and personal friend) Mike Collins the other week, along with the serious COVID illness of another good friend, who was hospitalized for weeks and came close to dying, as well, it seems too soon, and I won’t be going after all.

That will change before long, however, that is, unless we get some really bad news on the virus front in the next few months, as could happen if, for instance, a new variant goes rogue. But if things go as expected, Oshkosh in late July should be a whole different story.

And I know it’s a little early, but I’m already packing. And so pleased at the thought of seeing so many good friends there. That happiness, however, is tempered by the thought that there are a few friends I won’t be seeing there this year, or any year afterward. That’s the legacy of this terrible disease, a legacy that those of us who are lucky enough to survive it should never and will never forget.

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