Fully-vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recommendations from federal health officials also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.
The guidance announced Monday is aimed at addressing a growing demand, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or do other things like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world last year.
“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, in a statement. “There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes."
Walensky said more activities would be ok'd for vaccinated individuals once caseloads and deaths decline, more Americans are vaccinated, and as more science emerges on the ability of those who have been vaccinated to get and spread the virus.
However, the CDC is continuing to recommend that fully vaccinated people continue to wear well-fitted masks, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance themselves from others when out in public. The CDC also advised vaccinated people to get tested if they develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19.
The new guidance marks the first step toward restoring normalcy in how people come together.
Officials say a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. About 31 million Americans — or only about 9% of the U.S. population — have been fully vaccinated with a federally authorized COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to the CDC. More than half of people 65 and older have received at least one shot, according to Andy Slavitt, a senior administration adviser on the pandemic.
Three vaccines are currently in use across the country. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccines require two doses each, three and four weeks apart respectively. The third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, only requires one dose.
Since vaccine distribution began in the U.S. on Dec. 14, 2020, more than 90 million doses have been administered, reaching 17.7% of the total U.S. population, according to CDC data.
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The guidance was “welcome news to a nation that is understandably tired of the pandemic and longs to safely resume normal activities,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC.
“I hope that this new guidance provides the momentum for everyone to get vaccinated when they can and gives states the patience to follow the public health roadmap needed to reopen their economies and communities safely,” said Besser, in a statement.
But Dr. Leana Wen called the guidance “far too cautious.”
The CDC did not change its recommendations on travel, which discourages unnecessary travel and calls for getting tested within a few days of the trip. That could seem confusing to vaccinated people hoping to visit family across the country or abroad.
The new guidance also says nothing about going to restaurants or other places, even though governors are lifting restrictions on businesses, said Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who was formerly Baltimore’s health commissioner.
“The CDC is missing a major opportunity to tie vaccination status with reopening guidance. By coming out with such limited guidance, they are missing the window to influence state and national policy,” Wen said, in an email.
The CDC guidance did not speak to people who may have gained some level of immunity from being infected, and recovering from, the coronavirus.