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 vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced the guidance on Monday.
The guidance is designed to address a growing demand, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or do other things like they did before the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world.
“With more and more people vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner,” said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky.
During a press briefing on Monday, she called the guidance a “first step” towards restoring normality in how people come together.
She said more activities would be cleared for vaccinated individuals once caseloads and deaths decline, more Americans are vaccinated, and as more science emerges on the ability of those who have been vaccinated to 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 that could be related to Covid-19.
The CDC guidance did not speak about people who may have gained some level of immunity from being infected by, and recovering from, coronavirus.
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 US population — have been fully vaccinated with a federally authorised Covid-19 vaccine so far, according to the CDC.
The guidance was “welcome news to a nation that is understandably tired of the pandemic and longs to safely resume normal activities”, said Dr Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC.
“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 Dr Besser.
But some said the guidance is too cautious.
Dr Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, said the guidance is reasonable in many respects — with the exception of travel.
The CDC did not change its recommendations on travel, which discourages unnecessary travel and calls for getting tested within a few days of the trip. That could seem confusing to vaccinated people hoping to visit family across the country or abroad.
“They need to relax travel for those vaccinated” and to immediately publish electronic standards for documents that show whether a person is fully vaccinated, said Dr Khan, a former leading CDC disease detective.
The new guidance also says nothing about going to restaurants or other places, even though governors are lifting restrictions on businesses, said Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, who was Baltimore’s health commissioner.