A Virus Expert Says She Still Wouldn't Go Here—Even With a Booster

The potential protection of a third dose doesn't eliminate the risk in this one place.

The U.S. is currently caught up in a debate over whether or not to start providing additional booster shots to those already fully vaccinated. Research over the last few months has shown that while all three vaccines remain protective against severe COVID, both time and the Delta variant have had some impact on the vaccines' overall effectiveness against infection with the virus. But even amid talks of a potential third dose, some virus experts have maintained certain precautions as a result of the Delta surge, like wearing masks and avoiding certain places.

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Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told Business Insider that the potential promise of a booster is still not enough for her to return to indoor restaurants. "A third shot would be great, but I don't think a third shot is going to send me back to the activities right away that I consider to be risky," she said.

Instead, Prins said she's waiting until her community has a lower threshold for daily coronavirus cases. "I'd like to see it maybe hit 10 cases per 100,000 population," she told the news outlet. "The likelihood of you encountering someone who actively has COVID at that point becomes a lot lower, so it just makes me feel like the odds are in my favor."

Prins resides in Alachua County, Florida, which is currently experiencing a rate of around 52 new cases per 100,000 residents, per data from COVID Act Now. In order to get to a low daily rate in her community, Prins said a vaccination target of 85 percent would significantly help lower transmission.

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And she's not alone in taking this precaution. Indoor dining is a risk many virus experts say they still won't take, especially as the Delta variant circulates. Talking to nearly 30 epidemiologists, immunologists, and other infectious disease experts across the U.S. in August, STAT News found that 67 percent said they would not eat indoors at all right now. Epidemiologist John Brownstein, PhD, the chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, said that it's important to "prioritize eating outside where possible."

Saskia Popescu, PhD, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at George Mason University, told The Washington Post that the risk of indoor dining may be different for everyone. Much like Prins, she says there are three factors you should consider before deciding whether or not you should dine in at a restaurant: your vaccination status, the level of coronavirus transmission in your community, and your personal risk assessment. In terms of personal risk assessment, Popescu says you should consider whether or not you're immunocompromised or share a home with someone who is more at risk for severe COVID or cannot be vaccinated yet, likely because of age.

"I really am just not leaning into dining indoors right now," she told the newspaper. "Being indoors is a high-risk activity when you're dining because you're eating and you're drinking. You have no mask on. There's a bunch of other people whose vaccine status you don't really know and who are also unmasked. You're there for prolonged periods of time. I look at all of those, and that's how I make an informed decision. So it's not black-and-white."

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