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What will the summer be like? 9 infectious disease experts share their plans

Experts emphasized the importance of vaccines, but said that people could likely expect a somewhat normal summer this year.
Illustration of pandemic doctor on the beach
Katty Huertas / TODAY / Getty Images / Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has given us hope for a somewhat normal summer this year, and infectious disease experts are just as excited to enjoy the warm weather as the rest of the country.

TODAY Health interviewed nine experts, many of whom have been working on the coronavirus pandemic for the past year, about what they're hoping to do this summer.

Dr. Jonathan Samet, an epidemiologist and the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said that he hopes people will continue to be vaccinated in large numbers, which will help reduce the spread of the pandemic, and urged people to continue other precautions, like masking and distancing, until coronavirus numbers recede.

"I don't think anyone would have thought we'd be looking forward to summer where we're mostly vaccinated," Samet said. "A year ago, that was not a prediction I would have made. I think we can look forward to a summer that would be far better than I thought it would be."

1. Catherine Troisi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health

Catherine Troisi said that she and her husband are eager to reunite with their family. They are fully vaccinated, as are their children, and while their grandchildren won't yet be vaccinated, they plan on renting a beach house together for a week.

"We've (rented a beach house every year) for a while, except for last summer," Troisi said. "We just rented the house, I'm very excited."

However, she and her family do plan on continuing to take some precautions, like avoiding busy restaurants and keeping their distance from others in public.

"Being fully vaccinated and around people who are fully vaccinated does give you an extra sense of security, but we're still doing those interventions when we go out," she said. Their plans for vacation involve spending plenty of time on the beach and enjoying time with family members that have been separated for months. "... It's not party like 2019, but we can start getting back to normal."

2. Dr. Edgar Sanchez, infectious disease physician at Orlando Health

While Dr. Edgar Sanchez said he hopes he might be able to visit some of Florida's theme parks this summer, his real goal is a little less lofty.

"Before the pandemic I used to go to the gym every day, and I haven't gone since it became a pandemic," said Sanchez. "I've considered several times … but right now with the amount of virus still out there, I just don't, I just don't feel comfortable. ... I’m just waiting for the time I can finally go."

3. Dr. Jonathan Samet, epidemiologist and dean of the Colorado School of Public Health

Samet, who has been leading the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group, which was formed to help the state health department and governor make policy decisions amid the pandemic, said that he has been "very interested" in where the country will be this summer.

"We're hoping that by summer here, Colorado will at least be at a point where all those who are willing to be vaccinated are, and we're moving more towards a more normal life ... I'm optimistic for the summer," Samet said.

While he and his family haven't made any concrete plans for the summer, "Colorado is a great place to be" during the warmer months and Samet said he's eager to take advantage of the state's natural beauty.

4. Dr. Aneesh Mehta, associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and chief of infectious disease services at Emory University Hospital

Dr. Aneesh Mehta said that since much of his extended family has been vaccinated, he, his wife and their children are eager to join his wife's family for an extended family vacation in July. The trip was canceled last year for the first time in over 30 years.

"We love it," Mehta said. "We go to a mountain cabin with no TV, no Internet, no telephone; you just spend the whole day together hiking around and cooking and eating together."

Aside from that week, he is also hoping that his two daughters will be able to go to summer camp this year, an opportunity they missed in 2020.

"We're really hoping this year, as I think many other families are, that they'll be able to get back to these wonderful summer activities," Mehta said.

5. Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases) and health research and policy at Stanford Health Care

Epidemiologist Dr. Yvonne Maldonado said that she has been too busy with work related to the coronavirus pandemic to think about summer plans, but she hopes to "take a vacation of some sort."

"As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I've been working pretty nonstop for a year now, and it is getting a little tiring," Maldonado said. She is already vaccinated, and her husband and children likely will be by the summer, so she hopes that they can take a week or two to safely travel somewhere.

"There's surges in other parts of the country, of the world, so we have to be careful," Maldonado explained, adding that she would be wary of going somewhere that may not be able to provide medical care or keep up with a coronavirus surge. "I would enjoy even just going to rent a beach house somewhere where we can just relax and not have to worry about work as much. ... But the point is we can actually think about going somewhere."

6. Jerry Cangelosi, a professor of epidemiology at University of Washington

Professor Jerry Cangelosi told TODAY via e-mail that he's excited to travel for the first time since March 1, 2020. He's also looking forward to "gathering with ... extended family in person."

While some said they might be wary of traveling this summer, Cangelosi noted that the recent uptick in cases is “probably almost entirely in unvaccinated people,” so he’ll feel more comfortable traveling once more of the population becomes vaccinated.

7. Dr. Ashley Lipps, an infectious disease physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Infectious disease physician Dr. Ashley Lipps said she looks forward to participating in outdoor activities, which tend to be safer amid the pandemic. She and her family are also planning to see extended relatives.

"We have a plan to take a trip to go to my in-laws' house in the Outer Banks," Lipps said. "I think that's a really good and safe activity because we can kind of go to the beach and stay away from other people, but still be able to enjoy the outdoors and feel like we're doing something a little bit more fun."

8. Dr. Ted Cohen, infectious disease epidemiologist and professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health

Dr. Ted Cohen, an infectious disease epidemiologist, said that he's still a little wary of relaxing too many precautions this summer since his children are not yet able to be vaccinated and likely will not be vaccinated until at least late 2021.

"Plans are really up in the air for us at this point," Cohen said. "... I feel a great deal of responsibility to ensure that, though my children are very likely not going to suffer the consequences of poor COVID-19 outcomes, their (potential) role in propagating the epidemic and keeping it going gives me great pause when I think about engaging in activities where they could become infected and then pass that infection on to others."

Until vaccines are more available, Cohen said "outdoor activities are ideal," and the current vaccine rollout allows for "new opportunities that we didn't have last year."

"This opens up the possibilities for smaller group gatherings of individuals who we know are vaccinated," Cohen said.

9. Dr. Ibukun Kalu, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University

Dr. Ibukan Kalu, an infectious disease specialist in North Carolina, said that her "short list" of goals includes taking some small steps back towards normalcy.

"The short list probably includes a little bit more local travels and increasing the circle of people I spend unmasked time with — so like (having) a barbecue outside,” said Kalu. "For us, for now, we’re considering mostly domestic (travel). I do have family that would require an airplane ride away, it would be considered as compared to last year, but I don’t know if I’m fully committed just yet."

Kalu shared her personal mantra which is to "remain flexible, but certainly you can do a little bit more this year safely."