Original version based on herd immunity. First posted March 5, 2021, revised May 17, 2021.

Early in the pandemic, I made the decision to shut down The Fourth Place’s primary business running in-person events, and transition to building an online community and selling subscription products, until in person events were safe again.

With a lot of news about re-opening, I felt was important to lay out a clear policy for when we could safely and responsibly start hosting in-person events.

The article below was written when many of us expected herd immunity to be the solution. As the consensus among public health experts has shifted, that no longer appears possible. See more recent updates for criteria that do not rely on herd immunity.

A personal note

Like many of you, I am exhausted by over a year of lockdown, and eager to get back to doing the things we love, together, in-person— but feel it would be irresponsible to create risk to staff, guests, and our community in order to achieve that. To that end, I have put a lot of thought into what it would take for me to know it is safe and responsible to host any kind of in-person events going forward.

Interpreting the News

President Biden announced in early March that the United States will have enough vaccine doses as early as the end of May to vaccinate all adults. Since then, the pace seems to have picked up. People have jumped on this optimistically, which I can understand.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of open ground between having enough doses for every adult, and having enough people vaccinated for everyone to be safe. Among other things:

  • Vaccines take time and effort to distribute, so a dose in-hand is not a dose in-arm.
  • Experts estimate that as many as 80% of Americans will need to be fully vaccinated to control the pandemic. With as many as 25% of Americans saying they will never take a COVID-19 vaccine, and supply in many areas already outpacing demand, we do not know whether, let alone when, that will be possible.
  • For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the two doses are given up to four weeks apart.
  • For all three vaccines, full protection isn’t reached until two weeks after the final dose.
  • Until further testing is complete, the current vaccines cannot be used by people under 16, people who are pregnant, or people with some kinds of compromised immunity. At last count, about 24% of Americans under the age the vaccines have been deemed safe for,
  • Once people are vaccinated, it will take time for community spread to slow down and the tide to be reversed. It’s not just that each person’s vaccine is a shield for them; sufficient vaccination of our community is protection for all of us.
  • There are serious equity issues involved in opening only for people who are fully immunized, as it excludes both people who cannot be vaccinated, and people in marginalized communities with less access to medical care like the vaccines.

This means that there’s simply no way we can expect in-person events to be responsible to host and safe to attend this summer, and perhaps not until some time next winter. It’s a sobering thought, but also makes it the perfect time to consider what would truly be safe and responsible.

Original Criteria for Reopening

I have decided to take a measured, evidence-based approach to when it will be responsible to host the public. Here are the criteria that I plan to use, so that we have a clear rubric ahead of time to make a measured decision about starting and continuing in-person events, or opening our physical location.

  • Federal, State, county, and municipal laws and regulations at the location of the event must allow for the size and type of event. (I consider this a minimum requirement for legality, not likely to be sufficient to make reopening responsible.)
  • Guidelines from recognized health experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, must confirm that the size and type of event is safe and responsible at the time and location of the event.
  • Vaccination levels in the State and local community (both where I live, and where the event is held) must be at levels recommended by such experts– currently believed to be something like 80%– for a four week period, to show consistent improvement and to account for the time to full protection.
  • The seven-day moving averages for new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the country and State must have fallen for at least all of the past four weeks.

These criteria are intentionally designed in advance with clear measurable thresholds wherever possible, even if the final thresholds for those measurements aren’t known today, to take the emotions and my hopes in the moment for a particular situation out of the decision whether to re-open. I will use the same criteria to determine if events need to be cancelled or rescheduled, and our upcoming location closed temporarily. As new facts become available, I will consider modifications to this policy, but it will take more evidence to convince to loosen it than to tighten it.

Requirements for Events

In addition, once we meet the above criteria for opening events, I plan to require further precautions for several months, until the safety of broad reopening can be confirmed empirically.

  • All staff and attendees will be required to correctly wear sufficient masks while inside any location, and while outdoors within 12 feet of any other person.
  • Those who refuse to correctly wear masks, or comply with any other safety guidelines will be ejected from our events or premises immediately, without refund.
  • We will provide a limited supply of basic masks and hand sanitizer to anyone who needs them.
  • All staff and attendees except those medically unable to be vaccinated must provide proof of vaccination, including all shots and the recommended wait time for full immunity.
  • All staff and attendees who are medically unable to be vaccinated must provide documentation of this. To improve this situation, we will develop further guidelines for when or how it will be safe for them to work and attend our events as more information becomes available.

Addendum: Back of the Vaccination Card Math

Based on sources current in late April, the following appears to be true:

Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy alone is still enough to guarantee we cannot reach 80%. We will be unable to reach more than 50% this summer, or even reach 75% until some time next year (2022) when younger age groups can receive the vaccine. We can only hope that vaccines are made available for younger people sooner than expected, and that along the way we also convince 16 Million or more vaccine-hesitant Americans to take the vaccine.

It also appears that millions of Americans are skipping their second shots. This means they will never reach full protection, and their protections are likely not to last more than six months.

All of this means that we are not currently even able to estimate when the entire population will be largely safe from COVID-19.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t have adequate words to describe how much I want to see my friends and community again, and how much I miss the feeling of creating events that bring people together. I have the privilege to survive now working from home, and I’m grateful for that. My life, and my dream of opening a physical Fourth Place have been on hold for a year now.

All of that said, I could not sleep at night knowing that I was encouraging people to be anything but completely safe. Re-opening our world, and going on with our lives, is essential to our communities and our mental health, but must be done in a measured, evidence-based way, to ensure that all members of our community are safe.

My best guess is that it won’t be safe to re-open under these criteria until some time next year (2022) at best, but I hope to be proven wrong by the facts and the experts. I can’t wait to play with you all in person!

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