- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2021

People who’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should keep wearing masks in public but can visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without covering their faces or maintaining physical distance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Vaccinated people also can meet inside, without distancing or face coverings, with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk of developing severe disease from the coronavirus. This scenario has big implications for grandparents who’ve resorted to Zoom playdates with their grandchildren during the pandemic.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said an older vaccinated couple, for instance, could visit an adult daughter and her family so long as every member of the daughter’s family is at low-risk of severe COVID-19 — meaning they are under age 65 and do not have an underlying condition such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Also, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can refrain from quarantine or testing if they’ve had a known exposure to the virus and don’t feel symptoms.

The long-awaited guidelines begin to fill in the lines of what’s safe to do now that more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine and nearly 10% of the American population is fully vaccinated. The U.S. is administering an average of 2.2 million shots per day.

Under the new guidelines, a person is “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the final dose of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna or the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

“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. Walensky said. “And as more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves.”

The CDC emphasized that vaccinated people should still wear masks and maintain distance in public.

Those same precautions should be taken when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households or those at high risk of severe disease. Vaccinated people also should avoid medium-to-large gatherings, get tested if they feel symptoms and adhere to COVID-19 travel restrictions or requirements from their employers.

It’s been roughly a year since governments ordered businesses to close and implored people to mask up and work or learn from home. The CDC guidelines say today, the benefits of reducing social isolation will in some cases outweigh the risk of vaccinated persons becoming ill or transmitting the virus to others.

“There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes,” Dr. Walensky said. “Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings. As the science evolves and more people get vaccinated, we will continue to provide more guidance to help fully vaccinated people safely resume more activities.”

The CDC guidelines say all three of the vaccines’ approved for emergency use in the U.S. demonstrated the ability to stave off hospitalization and death. However, efforts to build widespread protection against COVID-19 will probably last well into summer. Scientists also are trying to measure whether vaccinated persons transmit the virus with much efficiency.

Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, said the new guidelines provide clarity while acknowledging a “lack of definitive answers in a dynamic environment.”

“I do think it will be important to update the guidelines soon regarding travel as well, so we don’t leave people to navigate travel options, with spring break and then summer on the horizon, without any clear guidance,” Mr. Udayakumar said.

Dr. Walensky said the CDC didn’t relax its advice on travel because cases tend to surge with an uptick in travel and variants are swirling around the globe. She acknowledged that because travel guidance remains unchanged, grandparents would most likely see grandchildren who are “healthy” and “local.”

“We are really trying to restrain travel at this current period of time,” she said, “and we’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them.”

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