One seemingly simple question — Have you gotten the shot? — has Long Islanders grappling with proper etiquette as they wade through the new post-pandemic normal.
It’s a question that's being asked more than ever — at indoor and outdoor gatherings, pool parties and dinners — after most pandemic restrictions were lifted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on June 15. Cuomo eased restrictions after New York State hit the 70% mark of adults having received at least one dose of the vaccine against COVID-19.
Counselors and experts in medical ethics said people should ask the "shot" question but should do so without sounding judgmental, while Long Islanders interviewed by Newsday had mixed reactions.
"We’ve gotten used to saying, ‘What pronoun should I call you?’ and 'Are you married?' " said Renee McLeod-Sordjan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at Northwell Health’s Department of Medicine. "We got comfortable with that. So why are we uncomfortable with asking whether we are vaccinated or not vaccinated?"
Unvaccinated New Yorkers should be "forthcoming" with neighbors, friends and co-workers, McLeod-Sordjan said.
"This was a public health pandemic," she said. "The duty that I had to my neighbor in the past was to get vaccinated. The duty that I had to my neighbor in the past was to wear a mask. Now, the duty that we're asking people to do is to be honest and forthcoming and transparent. So, if you have not been vaccinated and you go into the supermarket, please continue to wear a mask and wash your hands. If you have not been vaccinated, please disclose that to your co-worker."
Long Islanders said they likely would ask close friends and family the question but would hesitate when it comes to more casual acquaintances.
"I usually ask my friends because I feel comfortable around them," said Sydney Perruzza, 22, of Carle Place. "Most of them happen to be vaccinated, which is really nice, but as far as strangers, sometimes it feels a little uncomfortable to have to ask them. I'm glad that we're getting to a place where we can. Hopefully everyone that we meet is vaccinated."
Perruzza and her 19-year-old sister Carly said they are looking forward to working at Jones Beach Theatre this summer. They haven’t yet learned about any safety protocols that might be in place for dealing with crowds, but aren’t worried.
"We are both going to be fully vaccinated, so I feel comfortable with going and working," Carly said.
Gary Wallin, of Levittown, said he is happy his vaccination allowed him to see his beloved Islanders in person during the National Hockey League playoffs.
"I won’t go on an airplane and I won’t go on cruises — and those are things I used to do," he said.
The 67-year-old said he doesn’t ask people outside his family and close friends if they are vaccinated. Wallin said he hopes people are either vaccinated or following the proper protocols. "I feel the vaccination keeps me safe," he said.
Dennis Garcia, of Franklin Square, said his extended family shared their vaccination status through regular updates via group text messages.
Garcia, 37, said he wouldn’t hesitate to ask someone if they are vaccinated.
"It’s just a simple question," he said. "It’s like saying, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Are you vaccinated?’ I feel like it’s the same thing. It’s nothing major."
Some people may avoid those conversations to stave off any conflict, said Teresa Grella-Hillebrand, director of the Counseling and Mental Health Professions Clinic at Hofstra University’s Saltzman Center.
"If somebody is offended by being asked or doesn't like the fact that there's a certain rule, what always helps in any relationship is validating that person, saying they have every right to their point of view," Grella-Hillebrand said. "Saying, ‘We both are in different places. Let's think about how we can do something going forward. Maybe this isn't the event or this isn't the time’ … that can really help to smooth out the rough edges."
Shari Bardash-Eivers, of Farmingdale, is fully vaccinated but still wears a mask while shopping and takes other precautions in deference to her 85-year-old mother, who could still be vulnerable to COVID-19.
Her job at the family’s construction company is mostly remote, but when she enters the showroom — which is open to the public by appointment — she wears a mask and asks others to as well.
"I am not going to ask customers if they are vaccinated, but we are asking them to wear a mask," Bardash-Eivers said.
Bardash-Eivers, 57, said she hopes others will respect her decision to don a mask while shopping, even though many stores have said fully vaccinated people are not required to wear them.
"A woman told me, ‘You know, you can take your mask off,’ " she said. "In my head, I’m thinking this is none of your business, but I didn’t want to be rude. I said, ‘I’m just trying to keep my family safe.’ "
Bill and Patti Fife, of Merrick, also continue to be careful. The Fifes plan to host an event this summer to celebrate Patti’s recovery from leukemia. Guests will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to attend.
Patti’s treatments have left her with a compromised immune system, and she said she has been vigilant in taking precautions.
"I feel very comfortable asking people that are coming," said Patti, 74.
With Erin Serpico
What to know
Some Long Islanders said they feel comfortable asking friends and family members if they are vaccinated, but feel awkward asking acquaintances and strangers.
Experts say people should ask without sounding judgmental, and try to hear the concerns of others.
Experts also say that unvaccinated New Yorkers should be "forthcoming" with neighbors, friends and co-workers about their vaccination status.