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March 08, 2021

Fully-vaccinated people can safely gather indoors without masks, CDC says

But inoculated people must still take some precautions until the rollout reaches more Americans

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The guidance, released Monday, says people who are fully vaccinated can safely spend time together indoors without having to wear a mask or stay six feet apart. They also can visit unvaccinated people from one other household if everyone in the other household is considered at low risk for severe COVID-19. 

Fully-vaccinated people should continue to take the following precautions when in public, visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households, or spending time with unvaccinated people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19:

•Wear a well-fitted mask
•Stay at least six feet from people they do not live with
•Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
•Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
•Follow guidance issued by individual employers
•Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations 

"We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said"There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their homes. Everyone – even those who are vaccinated – should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings."

Fully vaccinated people also do not need to quarantine or get tested after they have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, so long as they do not develop any symptoms, according to the new guidelines.

So what does it mean to be fully vaccinated?

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final COVID-19 dose, according to the CDC. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two doses; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single shot. 

With vaccination efforts reaching more than 2 million doses a day, the number of Americans with full protection against the coronavirus is expected to grow quickly. Nearly 10% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. President Joe Bien has promised that the U.S. will have enough vaccines to inoculate any adult who wants one by the end of May. 

Many health experts have been wary of issuing loosened restrictions for people who are vaccinated, worrying that people will completely ditch mitigation efforts. It is still not clear whether the three authorized vaccines are as effective at preventing transmission as they are at preventing severe disease and death. 

However, recent data from Israel and the United Kingdom suggests the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective at reducing transmission, too. A U.K. study found the vaccine reduced transmissible infections by 86%. An Israeli study found an 89.4% reduction. The studies haven't yet been peer-reviewed.

Other experts say loosened restrictions offer Americans hope and serve as an incentive for people to get vaccinated. Without them, they fear some people will opt not to get vaccinated. 

Darren Mareiniss, an emergency medicine physician at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, told PhillyVoice that the new CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people are "a fairly low risk way to allow people to start to see each other. The CDC is very mindful to give a benefit to people getting vaccinated. It is a measure step towards normalcy."

He emphasized though that nothing is zero risk. "Even with vaccination, you can potentially still spread the virus asymptomatically. Although there has been preliminary data showing a decreased risk," he said.

"Studies are ongoing so we need to continue to monitor the data. We are still watching the different variants, especially the one originally identified in South Africa."

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