The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines Monday designed to ease restrictions for Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The agency’s guidance state those who have received a full course of COVID-19 vaccine may get together with other fully vaccinated individuals in small groups inside their homes without masks or physical distancing. They can also visit with unvaccinated people from one other household who are at low risk for severe disease.
The guidelines also say fully vaccinated people don’t need to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test if they’ve been exposed, unless they’re symptomatic. However, they should still monitor for symptoms for 14 days even if they're not in quarantine.
“You can visit your grandparents if you’ve been vaccinated and they have been, too,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Monday. “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.”
Vaccinated individuals should still wear a mask and social distance in public settings and avoid medium- to large-sized gatherings. The agency has yet to release updated guidelines on travel for those who have been vaccinated. Current CDC guidelines recommend delaying travel but provide a list of public health measures in the case that someone must travel.
The new guidance from CDC on what people can do if they are fully vaccinated is 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.
Experts say the announcement may be the agency's attempt to clear up confusion created by some states rolling back coronavirus safety measures despite public warnings from health officials.
Five states – Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Montana and Iowa – have announced plans to rescind mandates on wearing masks. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said it’s a “big mistake” for states to lift pandemic restrictions, calling it a result of “Neanderthal thinking.”
Whether the guidelines will clear things up is still up for debate, said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
The difference in tone from last week's White House briefing, when Walensky urged Americans to keep their guard up on the virus and “not give in to a sense of false security," may only serve to further confuse Americans.
“It’s almost two different pathways here,” El-Sadr said. “Imploring people to stay with it, continue to be guarded and careful, while at the same time realizing that people are fatigued (and) ease restrictions for this subset of (vaccinated) individuals.”
While she recognizes the need for national guidance, El-Sadr said it may be a bit premature to allow people to gather inside without masks as there’s still no data on asymptomatic transmission and only about 16% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Other experts disagree.
"People are tired and there’s a lot of pandemic fatigue and it’s really important that we don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good," said Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine, who authored a viewpoint published in JAMA Network Thursday that said it's "likely safe" to gather with other vaccinated individuals.
People are going to do things whether we like it or not and it’s important to tell people what they can do safely instead of what not to do," he said.
The pace of vaccinations has ramped up so more than two million Americans are getting vaccinated per day.
The Biden administration said Tuesday there will be enough vaccine for every adult in the U.S. by May thanks to a deal brokered between pharmaceutical giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson, but health experts say the U.S. could reach that milestone by mid-April.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Maureen Groppe and Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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