Cars in the drive up COVID-19 vaccine operation in the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen on Thursday.

No, we can’t immediately return to activities we’ve done for years after completing our COVID-19 vaccinations, at least for the time being, say local health officials.

“Right now, since we have such a limited number of people that have hit that two-week post-vaccination goal, not much has really changed,” said Carly Senst, vaccine and testing coordinator for Pitkin County Public Health Department.

Just because you are vaccinated doesn’t mean that everyone around you has been vaccinated. While you may not get sick if you are exposed to the virus, if you are exposed you may be able to pass it on to someone who has not been vaccinated. Public health officials and scientists across the country are still looking at the solid data about COVID transmission, according to Senst.

Keeping our neighbors safe

Across the country, a little more than 1 in 10 people have already been fully vaccinated and reached the two-week period afterward. But the Centers for Disease Control and local Pitkin County health officials still advise all to use to follow the Five Commitments: maintain at least 6 feet of distance from anyone not in your household; wash your hands frequently; cover your face in public with a mask; stay home when you are sick; and seek testing immediately and self-report if you experience the symptoms.

After a year of dealing with many effects of the virus, most of us are more than ready to return to the social activities we’ve always enjoyed, whether that’s eating in a restaurant without worry, participating in an indoor exercise class or dancing in front of the stage at the Snowmass summer Thursday night concerts.

But it’s clear from those who work in national and local public health departments or hospitals, while deaths and the local incident rate of the people getting sick from the virus is decreasing, there will be long-term effects because of this virus.

“Because everyone’s immune system is different, the vaccine has a different efficiency for every individual,” said Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County health director. “I believe that there will be a stage where we will be able to return to the semblance of normal, but until those data points tell us what safety looks like, I don’t want to judge anyone’s personal safety threshold.”

The good news is the local incidence rate is currently dropping and we have recently gone from red to orange, and we are continuing to make progress. In the last week, the incidence rate has fallen below 100, which is the separation line between orange and blue. If we continue to fall below 100 for a sustained seven-day period, ever more restrictions will be relaxed.

More vaccines are on the horizon

The two vaccines that are now available are the Pfizer vaccine and one by Moderna. Both of them are highly effective, about 95%, at preventing symptomatic or severe illness if one is exposed to the virus. Both of them use an entirely new way of delivering protection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside the body. This is different from the usual vaccine like a flu shot that puts a weakened or inactivated germ into one’s body in order to produce the immune response.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have created COVID-19 vaccines that work more like a traditional flu shot, and while it takes two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, ideally four weeks apart, to be effective, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine takes only one dose.

Keeping employees and the general public safe

Local large businesses, like the hospital, continue to maintain safe precautions.

“We have not changed our behaviors in the hospital at all,” said David Ressler, Aspen Valley Hospital chief executive officer. “That provides a level of assurance to us to be in the workplace and to our staff that are taking care of patients and to our physicians. We continue to abide by the Five Commitments.”

Ressler noted recently that while the science will eventually provide greater assurance that we will be able to have more public activities safely, many in the medical field believe “that our world is forever changed because of COVID and there will always be an added level of precautions to avoid transmission and infection.”

What about Thursday night concerts and other events?

“I think we’ll still have Thursday night concerts, but I don’t think people will congregate right now in large groups like they used to,” said Markey Butler, the chair of Pitkin County Board of Health. “I don’t think we’ll return to more normal until 2022.

As the former mayor of the town of Snowmass Village, Butler does think that the town, local citizens and visitors will adapt. She specifically applauds Snowmass Tourism for its creative events and marketing last summer and believes this next summer could be even more prosperous because of pent-up demand for travel and enjoying the types of outdoor recreation offered in Snowmass and Aspen.

Local schools and kids

While adults across the country are being vaccinated, children are not. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have not been approved for children under the age of 16. The good news is that, so far, the COVID virus does not infect children like it does adults, and they usually are not as sick when they are infected, according to Dr. Suzy Zimet, a local doctor who also serves on the Aspen School District Board of Education.

Dr. Zimet notes that the local district is following guidelines set by the state of Colorado. This is especially true of group sports and spectators, which have strict limits. But day to day, local education officials work to get staff and students to continue to follow the Five Commitments, and she has been generally pleased with the way staff and students have responded.

So, maybe all of us can be as committed as our local children are, continue to follow local public health guidelines, keep our neighbors and ourselves safe, get through the worst public health crisis in 100 years and finally get back to partying like it’s 1999, with a few new precautions.