People who are vaccinated can socialize together without masks, CDC says

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can gather indoors with other vaccinated people without masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. The recommendation is part of the long-awaited guidelines for how people who have received the shots can adjust their behavior. People who are vaccinated should still wear masks when they’re in public and while interacting with people who have not been vaccinated. They should also avoid large gatherings.

“A growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing today.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, and two weeks after the first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Those who are fully vaccinated can also gather indoors with unvaccinated people in other households as long as those unvaccinated people are at low risk for a severe case of COVID-19. “If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease,” Walensky said.

The CDC is not issuing new recommendations around travel at this time; people should still avoid unnecessary travel.

The agency was set to announce these guidelines last week, but it delayed the release because they were still being finalized.

The three COVID-19 vaccines available in the US are highly protective against the disease and will help beat back the pandemic — but none are perfect. While there are still high levels of the coronavirus circulating through most communities in the US, there’s still a small chance someone who has been vaccinated could get sick. Variant forms of the virus that can spread more easily have also been found in most states, and the vaccines are less effective against some of these variants. It’s also possible that someone who is vaccinated could still spread the disease to other people, even though they’re less likely to than someone who has not been vaccinated.

Experts had been calling for the CDC to help people understand which protective measures they can relax after they’ve been vaccinated. Some worried that saying people can’t change their behavior after vaccination would discourage people from getting vaccinated, even though that would likely be a small percentage of people who are vaccine-hesitant. “I understand the impulse to be cautious, but there is a cost to waiting,” public health expert Leana Wen wrote in The Washington Post.

The CDC already said people who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine if they’re exposed to someone with the disease unless they develop symptoms.

The guidelines will continue to evolve as more people become vaccinated, Walensky said. “Like you, I want to be able to return to everyday activities.”

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