On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
To keep unvaccinated individuals safe, the guidelines still recommend vaccinated people to practice social distancing and mask wearing in public, avoid large group gatherings and refrain from travel. But for the first time, the guidelines also lay out several activities that vaccinated people can safely do. According to the CDC, small, private gatherings of vaccinated people can begin again without social distancing and mask-wearing, and a vaccinated person can visit a household where people aren’t vaccinated as long as no one is at high risk of severe illness.
"Covid-19 continues to exert a tremendous toll on our nation. Like you, I want to be able to return to everyday activities and engage with our friends, families, and communities," said Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director, at the White House briefing, reports Jen Christensen for CNN. "Science, and the protection of public health must guide us as we begin to resume these activities. Today's action represents an important first step. It is not our final destination."
It has been nearly a year since local governments put in place their first pandemic-related restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, and now three vaccines have been developed and authorized for emergency use in the U.S. in record time. The new guidelines apply to people who have been fully vaccinated, which means getting either both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and then allowing two weeks for the immune system to learn how to recognize the virus.
“Currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe Covid-19. Additionally, a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others,” though research is ongoing into how long the vaccine offers protection and whether it protects against variants of the coronavirus, writes the CDC on its website.
With that in mind, the CDC has identified activities that vaccinated people can do at low risk to themselves, while keeping in mind the possible risk to unvaccinated people around them. Small groups of vaccinated people can meet up indoors without masks and social distancing—so friends who are all vaccinated could have dinner together in a private household, for example. Vaccinated people can also visit a single household where people are not vaccinated, as long as no one who lives there is at high risk of serious illness.
"We would like to give the opportunity to vaccinated grandparents to visit their grandchildren and children who are healthy and who are local,” said Walensky during the briefing, per Allison Aubrey and Rachel Treisman at NPR. “But our travel guidance currently has been unchanged,” because periods of travel have reliably led to a surge in cases in the U.S.
The CDC still suggests that people should avoid travel for the time being. If a vaccinated person wants to visit with unvaccinated people from several households at the same time, that meet-up should still take place in a well-ventilated area and everyone should wear masks and maintain at least six feet of distance from each other. Fully-vaccinated people should also continue to follow mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines in public spaces.
Walensky said during the briefing that about 31 million people had been fully vaccinated in the U.S., which is just over nine percent of the population, per NPR. Over two million people are being vaccinated every day, so it may still take months for vaccines to be available and accessible to every person who wants one.
“This is not turning a switch on and off,” says Carlos del Rio, vice president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, to Roni Caryn Rabin of the New York Times. “This is more like turning a faucet — you slowly start turning the faucet off.”
The guidelines are “welcome news,” he adds to the Times. “It’s the first time they are saying you can do something, as opposed to saying everything you can’t do. It’s huge.”