BUFFALO, N.Y. — ​New York State’s recent announcement on outdoor events has us all thinking about the next steps towards a return to normalcy.

Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease expert at the University at Buffalo, discusses how this latest information shows how large a part vaccinations will play in reopening, as well as what can be done to reach herd immunity and the lingering hesitancy to get vaccinated.

“Yes, I think that’s going to be the case. As we all know, the outdoor venue is much safe, and obviously, if you’re full vaccinated that affords a significant degree of protection and will enable those individuals to do a lot more activities safety,” Dr. Russo explained of whether or not he anticipates similar rules will be in place for large indoor gatherings, like concerts.

What's the big difference in the indoor versus outdoor?

“Shifting to indoor activities will probably involve a combination of universal mass at this point, capacity restrictions, and likely physical distancing until we are able to get the number of cases in our community down. If we keep going in a good direction, hopefully we can start to peel away some of those restrictions in the indoor setting as well.”  

Right now, about 47% of people in New York have one COVID vaccine dose, which is far from herd immunity, but we may not reach that any time soon.

So are there any health concerns in opening in this way right? Or is this overall safe for people who got their shot?

“I think that we are ready to start to reopen things,” Dr. Russo continued, “as long as we do it safety. We know that vaccination affords a significant degree of protection for those individuals, and if you’re unvaccinated, distancing and mask use are very effective. So, if we apply those simple rules, and institute them in indoor activities and even selected outdoor activities, distancing and capacity restrictions, I think we can do this safely.”

Now we know there is still a large portion of the country that is hesitant to get this vaccine and we'll certainly see some pushback on some of these rules.

How do address that hesitancy?

“I think we are going to get there eventually. We’re not there quite yet, and I think the first place to start is in outdoor venues. There has already been easing of restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals by the CDC, with the caveat that for large gatherings, they are still recommending masks because we have a fair amount of disease in our community. But as cases go down, I think that’s what we are going to see for outdoor venues. If you’re fully vaccinated, you are going to be able to sit in close quarters without masks. If you’re not vaccinated, masks and distancing will still be the order of the day, but we’re going to get there.”