Certain feelings have practically vanished since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic ― the most major of which is hope.

The past year-plus has been heavy and exhausting, with barely enough time to breathe before the next piece of not-so-great COVID-19 news drops. It seems, though, that we are rounding a corner as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop, and vaccines become more available.

“Speaking for the U.S., I’m really hoping that this summer will be remarkably different from last summer,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’re on a good path right now, and I just hope that we can stay on the path that we’re on.”

Following that path, though, is dependent on society’s actions, including continuing to follow public health guidance and getting vaccinated. It’s also reliant on the unexpected curveballs the pandemic has been throwing at us for the past year.

So, where does that leave us? Below, experts shared their expectations for summer 2021 throughout the country based on how the pandemic is going right now:

As more people get vaccinated, there will likely be fewer restrictions

The importance of getting the coronavirus vaccine when it’s available to you cannot be overstated: “These vaccines are absolutely our way out of this pandemic,” said David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that as people continue to get vaccinated into the spring and summer, he expects that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will relax some of its guidelines and restrictions.

So, as more and more people get their shots and are protected from severe COVID-19 and death, we can expect to be able to safely do many of the activities we’ve missed out on over the past year.

Outdoor gatherings will likely become a safe norm.

“One of the things that we are feeling better about is the data around SARS-CoV-2 transmission and recognizing that outdoor activities have not turned out, as best as we can tell, to be a significant factor in pushing the pandemic forward,” Brewer said, referring to the fact that the threat of virus spread is low in socially distant, outdoor settings.

Brewer expects outdoor gatherings to increase (and perhaps even expand in size slightly) as a safe way for individuals to get together. So, for the first time in ages, we can likely have that barbecue with friends.

“I’m not sure whether we’ll get back to large outdoor mass gatherings like athletic events where stadiums are full,” he added, “but I do think that there will be smaller outdoor gatherings.”

Nuzzo stressed the importance of caution, however. It’s still considered risky for unvaccinated people to get together with others, so take note if you haven’t had your shot.

“The worry is when unvaccinated people gather,” Nuzzo said, specifically referring to children who are not old enough to get the vaccine. “But if all of the adults are vaccinated, then I think [an outdoor gathering] is a reasonable thing to do.”

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