Do I have to wear a mask? Can I visit my grandparents? Questions about the CDC guidelines for vaccinated people, answered
As the U.S. vaccinates more than two million people a day, the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention released its guidelines for individuals who have received the full course of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve been through a lot this past year and with more and more people getting vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. “As more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves.”
While many of these guidelines offered somelong-awaited freedoms to Americans after a year of following public health safety measures, they also raised questions.
Here’s a breakdown of the CDC guidelines and what they mean for resuming daily activities:
When do I need to wear a mask and when don’t I?
The CDC says fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask or socially distance inside a home when visiting other vaccinated people or an unvaccinated person from one household who is at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
This means a person who is fully vaccinated should still wear a mask and socially distance in a home with someone who is unvaccinated and over the age of 65, or has an underlying medical condition that puts them at risk for getting severely ill with COVID-19.
In a situation where vaccinated people are gathering with unvaccinated people from multiple households at the same time, everyone should wear a mask and follow social distancing protocols. The CDC also recommends gathering outdoors or in a well-ventilated space.
Can I gather with large groups?
Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC still recommends avoiding medium- to large-sized gatherings. The agency defers to states that may have local guidance restricting the size of gatherings.
If a fully vaccinated person decides to attend an event or large gathering, the CDC says they should continue to follow prevention measures that reduce COVID-19 spread, such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
Am I safe to go about normal activities in public? Eating out at restaurants, getting haircuts?
While risk of coronavirus infection in public settings is lower for fully vaccinated individuals, the agency still recommends following existing guidance when going out in public settings such as dining indoors at a restaurant or going to the gym.
The CDC says this is to protect unvaccinated individuals. Though studies show the vaccines are effective against symptomatic disease, researchers are still learning their impact on asymptomatic infection, which means vaccinated individuals may transmit the virus without getting sick.
“You can conceivably get infected, get no symptoms and still have virus in your nasal pharynx,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a CNN town hall in January. It’s possible that while carrying that virus, someone can transmit it to family or friends.
Can I see my grandparents?
Fully vaccinated grandparents don’t have to wear a mask or physically distance if they visit fully vaccinated family or unvaccinated family not at risk for getting severely ill.
However, grandparents and family should all wear masks and physically distance if there is more than one household visiting.
As per the CDC example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit with their unvaccinated daughter and her children indoors without a mask or socially distancing. But if the neighbors decide to show up, then everyone should put on a mask and stay at least six feet from each other. The gathering should also be taken outdoors or to a well-ventilated area.
What about travel?
The CDC did not update guidelines on travel for vaccinated people, but deferred to previous guidance that said Americans should avoid all unnecessary travel regardless of vaccination status.
If a person must travel, the CDC recommends waiting at least two weeks after getting fully vaccinated and taking the following steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission:
- Check travel restrictions before you go
- Get tested with a viral test one to three days before travel. Keep a copy of your test results while traveling in case someone asks for them
- Wear a mask, avoid crowds and stay at least six feet from anyone who did not travel with you
- Wash your hands often
- Bring extra supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Get tested again after traveling
Do new guidelines only apply to people who received both shots or one?
The guidelines apply to those who are fully vaccinated. This means two weeks after getting the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot.
I was exposed to someone with COVID-19. Do I have to quarantine?
An individual who has been fully vaccinated does not need to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and do not present any symptoms. Even if they’re not in quarantine, the CDC recommends monitoring for symptoms for 14 days after exposure and immediately isolate themselves if they start to present symptoms.
These recommendations do not apply to people living or working in non-health care congregate settings, such as correctional and detention facilities or group homes. If a fully vaccinated person who lives or works in one of these settings is exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, they should continue to quarantine for 14 days and be tested after exposure.
“This is because residential congregate settings may face high turnover of residents, a higher risk of transmission, and challenges in maintaining recommended physical distancing,” the CDC said.
Fully vaccinated employees of high-density workplaces, such as meat and poultry processing or manufacturing plants, do not need to quarantine following an exposure if they don’t have any COVID-like symptoms. However, the CDC recommends testing following exposure and routine workplace screening programs to monitor for symptoms.
Is this new guidance likely to change?
The short answer is yes.
During the White House briefing Monday, Walensky said the guidelines have the potential to change as researchers learn more about COVID-19 as a disease, Americans continue to get vaccinated and “disease dynamics” change.
Updated guidance will be based on scientific evidence, she said, and balance the risk of vaccinated Americans, unvaccinated Americans and overall community transmission.
“Its important to note that this is initial guidance. The science of COVID-19 is complex and our understanding of the virus continues to rapidly evolve,” Walensky said. “The recommendations issued today are just a first step.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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