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Fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without masks, CDC says

Vanessa Guerra, a special-education teacher at Grant Elementary

Vanessa Guerra, a special-education teacher at Grant Elementary School in Hollywood, Calif., receives a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Kelly Mendoza in Inglewood, Calif., last week. Credit: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from federal health officials.

The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together without those precautions with unvaccinated people from a single household who are considered at low risk for severe disease. This could apply to the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the guidance Monday. It is designed to address a growing demand for information, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or resume their pre-pandemic activities.

"With more and more people vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

During a news briefing Monday, she called the guidance a "first step" toward restoring normalcy in how people gather. She said more activities would be approved for vaccinated individuals once COVID-19 caseloads and deaths decline, more Americans are vaccinated, and more science emerges on whether those vaccinated can still get and spread the virus.

The CDC is continuing to recommend that fully vaccinated people still 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 but offered no further guidance to those vaccinated and seeking to travel.

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.

"I hope that these guidelines will push people to get vaccinated, especially people who have been hesitant, " said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

He said people still need to be mindful around those who have compromised immune systems and other issues that make them especially susceptible to COVID-19.

"I still think we need to be cautious, " Farber said. "But for the average healthy person who got two doses of vaccines and wants to see a child or grandchild, I think this gives them a lot more flexibility and opportunity they have been looking for."

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who sits on the Senate's Health Committee, said he also thinks the announcement helps emphasize the importance of vaccinations.

"Today’s advisory is welcomed and will go a long way in encouraging our neighbors to take the vaccine, and in turn, help put an end to the pandemic," Kaminsky said in a statement. "The science is clear: all three vaccines are safe and effective — and will be key to returning our lives to normalcy after a dark year."

Authorized vaccine doses first became available in December, and required two doses spaced weeks apart. But since January, a small but growing number of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and have been asking questions like: Do I still have to wear a mask? Can I go to a bar now? Can I finally see my grandchildren?

But Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who was formerly Baltimore’s health commissioner, called the guidance "far too cautious."

It says nothing about going to restaurants or other places, even though governors are lifting restrictions on businesses, said Wen.

"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.

With Lisa L. Colangelo

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According to new CDC guidelines, those fully vaccinated can:

  • Visit indoors with other fully vaccinated people or unvaccinated low-risk people from a single household without masks or social distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
  • Continue to take precautions when visiting with unvaccinated people at increased risk of severe disease or living with those at high risk.
  • Avoid medium or large gatherings