The Atlantic Daily: Americans Need an Off-Ramp to the Post-pandemic World

As more vaccines go into arms, governments and businesses ought to relax some COVID-19 precautions, one of our staff writers argues.

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Americans are over it.

The country suffers from what my colleague Amanda Mull calls “pandemic senioritis”—“an abrupt bout of laziness, or flakiness,” that’s set in as the nation awaits an oh-so-glorious summer.

But daydreams of better days may be clouding judgment: Americans, vaccinated or not, are starting to take safety shortcuts, and those cheat days are beginning to add up.

Luckily, some guidelines are ripe for a revamp anyway. Our staff writer Derek Thompson argues that governments and businesses ought to cut exhausted Americans some slack in two areas in particular:

1. Outdoor mask mandates

“The coronavirus disperses outside, posing little risk to people who are walking alone or even swiftly passing by strangers,” he explains. Keeping outdoor restrictions in place “might also turn people off from obeying better rules.”

2. Deep cleanings and hygiene theater

“If you tell people the truth—this virus doesn’t do very well on surfaces, so you should focus on ventilation—they can protect themselves against what matters,” Derek argues.

Other precautions remain important, such as mask wearing indoors, ventilation, and avoiding large gatherings—especially if some attendees aren’t fully vaccinated.

The news in three sentences:

(1) The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is drawing to a close amid a rash of killings by law enforcement in which the victims have been disproportionately people of color.

(2) Adults in all U.S. states are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which means the country is in the hands of the vaccine hesitant.

(3) A very lovable NASA robot accomplished a very remarkable feat on Mars.

One question, answered: I’m fully vaccinated. Can I dine indoors?

Our staff writer Katherine J. Wu helps you think through the risk:

The CDC sums up the situation pretty well (emphasis mine): “Risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection during public social activities such as dining indoors at a restaurant or going to the gym is lower for fully vaccinated people.” That’s absolutely true—we have great evidence that the vaccines are very good at protecting people from COVID-19, and, to a lesser extent, from catching and transmitting the coronavirus. But vaccines aren’t an impenetrable barrier to infection, especially in a crowded indoor setting where masks will have to come down, as in a restaurant.

So if you’re looking to dine inside, keep up behaviors such as masking and distancing, and try to seek out a restaurant that will make those choices easy. The best spots to eat will be those that space tables far apart, require both staff and patrons to mask up when they’re not eating or drinking, and don’t let too many people in at once. (Even if you’re fully vaccinated, consider that most other Americans are not.)

If there’s an option to dine outdoors (a fully enclosed tent does not count), take it. If it’s not too much of a hassle or a mood-killer to get takeout and eat at home, do it. And don’t forget that a lot of these decisions depend on community context, which is shifting all the time: If cases are surging in your neighborhood, maybe it’s best to hold off a week or two on your big night out.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity

Let photography take you elsewhere: Scroll through the winners of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest.

A break from the news:

“The best way to capture puberty’s reality, it turns out, is to embrace its surrealism.” Read our staff writer Megan Garber on what shows like PEN15 and Big Mouth get right about adolescence.

For the first half of 2021, Lori Gottlieb’s column will be on hiatus while she writes her next book. During that time, we’re revisiting some of Lori’s best work.

This week, we look again at her advice to a reader whose girlfriend cheated on him with his co-worker.

Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.