If you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it's OK to gather with others unmasked in certain situations, but it's still important to wear a mask and observe social distancing in public, health experts say. The Centers for Disease Control&Prevention recently released guidelines for the newly vaccinated. The agency advised that it's OK to remove your mask if you're a fully vaccinated person and are gathering indoors with other fully vaccinated people, or if you're gathering indoors with unvaccinated members of one other household (unless one of those people is at risk for severe COVID-19). Read on to see when exactly you can remove your mask—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
The CDC still says vaccinated people should wear a mask in public
You're fully vaccinated two weeks after getting your second dose of a two-dose vaccine, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like Johnson&Johnson’s vaccine, the agency said.
However, the CDC joined a chorus of experts who say it's necessary for fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in public, and to practice social distancing and other preventative measures like avoiding travel and large gatherings.
That's because it's still unclear whether COVID vaccines only block symptoms and severe illness, or if they also prevent vaccinated people from carrying the virus and transmitting it to others.
There has been controversy around this advice—notably, Senator Rand Paul challenged Dr. Anthony Fauci over it last week during a Senate panel—but "there is no situation in which there is no risk. So [the guidance] recognizes a range of risks," said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, on the hospital's website.
Those vaccinated can disregard certain other restrictions; they no longer need to quarantine after COVID exposure, and can gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors. "It is the CDC's first step toward normalcy by balancing the value of social interaction and family interaction that many of us have not been engaging in because of the science-based recommendations, and trying to decrease social isolation," says Dr. Poland.
"It is an appropriate step in moving toward normal life by using a careful 'dimmer switch' rather than an 'on-off' switch approach," he added. "This allows those who have taken the important step of vaccination to carefully begin normalization of life activities, while allowing states and the CDC to measure the effect until vaccines are widely available to all."
43 million fully vaccinated so far
The new guidance is “welcome news to a nation that is understandably tired of the pandemic and longs to safely resume normal activities,” Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC, told the Associated Press.
“I hope that this new guidance provides the momentum for everyone to get vaccinated when they can and gives states the patience to follow the public health roadmap needed to reopen their economies and communities safely,” said Besser.
CDC data indicates that as of March 20, more than 43 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID. That's about 13% of the total U.S. population. Experts say 75 to 80 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity develops and pre-pandemic normality can resume. So get vaccinated when it's your turn, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.