With a COVID-19 vaccine widely available for months, we all thought this might be a close-to-normal Labor Day. But as the pandemic rages through the unvaccinated population in North Carolina and across the United States, those hopes are out the window. 

Here's what you need to keep in mind to stay safe and care for family and community this holiday weekend. 

Get out there and enjoy life, advises Dr. Chan Badger, a family medicine doctor at Novant Health Northern Family Medicine in Greensboro, North Carolina. But, he notes, we're back to making sure everyone is doing their part. We asked Badger what he feels comfortable recommending to patients.

Dr. Chan Badger with mask
Dr. Chan Badger

What’s safe to do these days, presuming your gathering includes both people who have – and have not – been vaccinated?

First and foremost, I think we need to be asking folks to get vaccinated. That’s the most important thing. But for those who are planning gatherings, I would still try to do it outdoors, if possible. That's still the safest way to gather.

We still need to wear masks indoors. Even if you've been vaccinated, you could potentially infect children not yet eligible for the shots. Outdoors we should still practice social distancing and wash our hands frequently.

People who've been vaccinated but are vulnerable to infection should be extremely careful around those who have not been vaccinated. Third doses are now available to the "vaccinated vulnerable." Please consider getting that third shot.

And to those who already got COVID and believe they are now immune: there's no way of knowing if the amount of immunity you received comes close to matching the power of the vaccine. Please think about getting vaccinated. Why roll the dice?

What do you say to patients who have not been vaccinated yet?

I'm the kind of doctor that really just tries to meet my patients where they want to be. I’m not a dictator; I’m not going to ride them incessantly about it. I am having conversations with them whenever I can. I'm asking every patient, mainly because we need to update their chart, if they've been vaccinated. That allows me a door opener to a discussion about it.

I usually lead the conversation by saying, “Look, I don't want you to feel I'm forcing you to get the vaccine, but I would like to understand why you're choosing not to.” Most of them start the sentence with, “They say …” My next question is: Who is they? Is “they” a doctor? Most of the time, “they” is not a medical professional.

I coach my 14-year-old son's baseball team, and I've had parents ask me if I'm going to have my son vaccinated. I am. I've already chosen to have my 17-year-old daughter vaccinated. I think it's a no-brainer. Of course, I've had the benefit of hearing Dr. David Priest (Novant Health’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer) talk about the safety of the vaccine and reading information from resources I know to be reliable – not just social media posts. I think part of the problem is there's so much misinformation out there that it makes people distrustful. (You’ll find answers to lot of your questions about teens and the vaccine here.)

If you haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet, let’s land that

Act now

What about travel? Is it safe to head to the beach or the mountains? 

Yes. I've been telling my patients: If you've been vaccinated, I want you to go out, have dinner, get back to a more normal life. I have so many patients who are down and depressed. Anxiety among my patients is at an all-time high. I'm just seeing it over and over and over again. I want all of us to get back to that because I feel like we need that – as a country, as a people. The whole world needs it.