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CDC Says Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks in Private Gatherings

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In its first set of advice for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said March 8 that these people can visit others, indoors and without masks or socially distancing, under specific conditions.

Fully vaccinated people—which the agency defines as those who are at least two weeks out from their last dose—can visit other fully vaccinated people in private settings, indoors, without masks or socially distancing. Vaccinated health care workers and residents of long term care facilities, for example, can enjoy a meal together or have conversations indoors without having to wear masks or stay six feet apart.

Fully vaccinated people can also visit with unvaccinated people as long as the unvaccinated people are at low risk of COVID-19 disease. So grandparents who are vaccinated can visit their children or grandchildren in a household, as long as their children and grandchildren don’t have high-risk jobs or an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk of infection or illness. Under these conditions, everyone can meet without masks and they don’t need to be socially distanced from one another.

The CDC also says that anyone who is fully vaccinated does not need to quarantine or get tested after a potential exposure to COVID-19, as long as they do not show any symptoms. If they do show symptoms, they would still need to self-isolate and get tested, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a March 8 briefing that the new recommendations are “just a first step. As more people are vaccinated and the science and evidence expands, and the disease dynamics change, we will continue to update the guidance.” The current advice, which the agency called “interim,” applies only to private gatherings with individual households, since in those situations, people would in theory be more aware of who might be at higher risk of getting sick, and who might be at higher risk of getting exposed to the virus, than they would be of those outside their households.

The guidelines are just that—guidelines—and will likely generate more questions than answers for now. Could large families with unvaccinated members from different households gather together with fully vaccinated grandparents indoors they way they did before the pandemic? That’s not entirely clear, since the CDC does not specify the number of people that’s ideal for such situations, because that data isn’t directly available yet.

That’s why the agency is advising people who are vaccinated to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid large crowds and gatherings in public settings. And, in situations where a fully vaccinated individual wants to visit with someone who is unvaccinated and at high risk of COVID-19, the visit should occur outdoors with six feet of distance between the two, and both people should wear a mask.

Over 90% of the U.S. population remains unvaccinated, and while the shots are highly effective in protecting vaccinated people from getting very sick with COVID-19, vaccinated people have shown symptoms of COVID-19, and it’s not clear yet whether those people can then spread the virus to others. That’s why vaccinated people are still urged to refrain from traveling as well.

“We remain in the midst of a serious pandemic, where more than 90% of the population is not fully vaccinated,” Walensky said. “Everyone, whether they are vaccinated or not, should continue to avoid medium- to large-sized gatherings, as well as non-essential travel. In public spaces, they should continue to wear a well-fitting mask, physically distance and follow other measures to protect themselves and others. We believe the new recommendations are important first steps in efforts to resume everyday activities in our community.”

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