CDC: Fully Vaccinated People Can Gather Privately Without Masks
By Brianna Abbott
People who are fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus can gather privately in small groups without masks or physical distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, relaxing safety guidelines for inoculated individuals under some circumstances.
The CDC said Monday that fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions in most circumstances to prevent the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. People who are fully immunized should continue to wear masks and keep their distance from others in public or while visiting unvaccinated people at higher risk for severe cases of Covid-19, the CDC said. The agency said vaccinated people should continue to hold off on long trips by plane or train.
“Our guidance must balance the risk to people who have been fully vaccinated, the risks to those who have not yet received the vaccine, and the impact on the larger community transmission of Covid-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing.
The updated guidance comes as government officials, businesses and individuals try to map a path back toward normalcy, one year after the pandemic first shut down much public life and business as usual across the country. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to Covid-19 have fallen in recent weeks following a winter surge, and the effort to inoculate Americans against the virus is ramping up.
But public-health officials say people should remain cautious as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations remain at high levels and vaccines continue to roll out. President Biden said last week that the U.S. would have enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of May.
More than 92 million Covid-19 shots have been administered across the U.S., according to CDC data, allowing people who have been vaccinated to navigate life during the pandemic with that added layer of protection against the virus. More than 18% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data, and just over 9% of the population has gotten two shots.
President Biden has urged Americans to wear masks and maintain social-distancing guidelines, while some cities and states such as Texas have recently said they would loosen such restrictions.
It is possible that vaccinated people could still get infected by the virus and transmit it to others who are at risk for severe disease, public-health experts say. The authorized vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe cases of Covid-19 that could lead to hospitalization or death. It is unclear how effectively they might prevent infection and transmission, but early evidence suggests that vaccinated people are less likely to get infected and potentially less likely to spread the virus, the CDC said.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated, regardless of their underlying risk, can feel more confidence that they can avoid severe illness from Covid-19,” said Ajay Sethi, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But, he said, “we have to recognize that some people can pick up the virus and transmit to others.”
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE as well as by Moderna Inc., or two weeks after getting the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.
The CDC said people who are fully vaccinated against the virus can visit with unvaccinated members of a single household without wearing masks or maintaining social distancing as long as those people are at low risk for severe cases of Covid-19. Vaccinated individuals don’t need to quarantine or receive a Covid-19 test after being exposed to the virus if they don’t have any symptoms, the CDC said.
However, the CDC said that people living together in nonmedical facilities such as prisons should continue to quarantine and get tested following exposure to Covid-19, even after getting vaccinated. Vaccinated employees at such facilities or other densely populated workplaces don’t need to quarantine, but should continue to be tested, either following an exposure or as a part of screening programs, the CDC said.
Vaccinated people are also less likely to get infected during activities such as eating indoors at restaurants or going to the gym, the CDC said, though people should still follow safety precautions in those circumstances. The agency also said fully vaccinated people with Covid-19 symptoms should isolate themselves from others and get tested, even though the risk of infection is low.
Dr. Walensky said that the CDC will continue to update its guidance as more evidence becomes available and as more people get vaccinated.
For now, the CDC said, everyone should avoid gatherings larger than small groups of individuals regardless of their vaccination status. The CDC didn’t change its travel guidance for vaccinated individuals, which includes avoiding nonessential travel and wearing masks on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation.
“We would like to give the opportunity for vaccinated grandparents to visit their children and grandchildren who are healthy and who are local, but our travel guidance is currently unchanged,” Dr. Walensky said.