Fully vaccinated people in the U.S. can visit indoors — mask-less and without social distancing — with other fully vaccinated people, according to new, long-awaited guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the guidelines.
"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," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director said during a White House briefing on Monday (March 8). "A growing body of evidence now tells us there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves."
Fully vaccinated people can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for developing severe COVID-19, without masks or distancing, according to the guidelines. And if they don't have any symptoms of COVID-19, they can skip quarantining or testing if they are exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
But fully vaccinated people need to continue wearing masks, physical distancing and practicing other prevention measures when visiting people who are unvaccinated and who have an increased risk for severe COVID-19 or live with someone who does, according to the guidelines. Similarly, fully vaccinated people need to continue practicing these prevention measures if meeting unvaccinated people from multiple households.
Clinical trial data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against severe illness, hospitalization or death. However, there is still a small risk that vaccinated people can become infected with the virus and have asymptomatic or mild disease, and they could potentially transmit the virus to others, Walensky said.
"Understanding the size of this risk in vaccinated people and to the risk of transmitting the virus to others who are not vaccinated is an ongoing area of research," she added. These guidelines are "initial" and a first step and will be updated as the science and our understanding of the virus evolves, she said.
The U.S. is now vaccinating more than 2 million people per day, Walensky said. As of Monday (March 8), 59 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 31 million people, or 9.2% of the population are fully vaccinated.
But the U.S. is still reporting a high number of new COVID-19 cases a day, with a seven-day average of about 59,000 cases and 1,727 deaths. "We continue to have high levels of virus around the country and more readily transmissible variants have now been confirmed in nearly every state," Walensky said. "While we work to quickly vaccinate people more and more each day, we have to see this through."
Fully vaccinated people should continue to do their part in helping protect others by wearing well-fitting masks and physical distancing in public areas, avoiding large gatherings and getting tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, according to the guidelines. People should also continue to avoid non-essential travel, Walensky said.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.