FAIR LAWN, NJ - Holy week and Passover are here and people are once again gathering, more eager than ever as covid grinds on, and even as the infection rate spikes. But there continues to be optimism as gathering restrictions loosen, a full season of professional baseball (unlike last year) is about to begin, and people are clamoring to get vaccinated.

Doctors and the community alike are hoping to reach herd immunity through the help of vaccines sooner rather than later. According to the CDC, herd immunity is achieved when a "sufficient proportion" of the population is immune, either by vaccination or through contracting covid and recovering.

But health officials are not hanging their hats on that just yet.

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Dr. Gian Varbaro, Chief Medical Officer at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, Paramus, said the current U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines are worth repeating. 

"People who have had the shot can gather with others two weeks after their second shot," Dr. Varbaro said. "Gathering in small numbers, no matter what, is still more advisable than large gatherings."

The doctor said people 65 and older are in the highest overall risk category and need to take what everyone has come to know as "the usual" precautions: staying six feet apart, especially indoors; wearing a mask; and washing hands frequently.

Then there are those who've had coronavirus, especially recently.

"If you've contracted coronavirus, you must quarantine 10 days from the first day you had symptoms," Dr. Varbaro said. "Or, after that, for three days after your last 101+ fever."

After that, it is permissible to go out, granted you feel well enough, because you're no longer shedding the virus.

Getting tested as soon as you feel symptoms is advisable, as well--first so you know to quarantine, and second, to receive treatment early on, such as IV antibody therapies, when it has the best chance of being effective.

Unfortunately, as a society, it seems as though we're attacking a moving target, noted by the frustration we're still wearing masks a year after the initial statewide shutdown.

"Viruses evolve," Dr. Varbaro said. "They either die or they mutate."

While covid-19 has already evolved, the vaccine seems to be holding up well against the variants, the doctor said.

And with coronavirus cases increasing in early spring, it's not a surprise to healthcare officials.

New Jersey currently has the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the nation, which health officials blame largely on the variants and the densely packed region in which we live.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy increased the number of people who can gather outdoors to 200 and raised the capacity percentages at large venues to 20% for all indoor facilities that seat at least 2,500 and 30% for outdoor venues. Those numbers take effect on Friday, April 2. Passover is observed through April 4. Easter is on Sunday, April 4.

Meanwhile, Dr. Varbaro agrees to the list of what and how fully vaccinated people can participate in social events this spring:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations