Since mid-March, when this article was originally published, the CDC has further relaxed guidelines for vaccinated individuals. While masking and physical distancing in public is still the rule for unvaccinated individuals, guidelines for travel have changed, and vaccinated people can go without masks in most outdoor settings and resume many pre-pandemic activities. We expect recommendations to continue to change as greater numbers of Americans get vaccinated, and COVID-19 cases continue to decrease. The most up-to-date guidelines will always be available on the CDC website.
How will vaccination change what I can safely do? It’s a question many people, vaccinated or still waiting their turn, have been asking.
Last week, the CDC released its long-awaited guidance on this topic.
According to the new guidelines, once you are fully vaccinated (in other words, at least two weeks past receiving either the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines), you can gather indoors, unmasked, with:
- a small group of other fully vaccinated people, or
- a small group that includes unvaccinated people from one other household, as long as none of these unvaccinated people or any unvaccinated member of their household is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
You can also skip quarantine after a known exposure to the virus and, if you live in Massachusetts, you’re now exempt from state requirements for testing and/or quarantine after out-of-state travel.
Still off the table for vaccinated people are medium- to large-sized gatherings, non-essential travel, and dropping precautions, like masking and distancing, in public settings.
But what does all this mean for your “pandemic wish list?”
To figure out the specifics of what you can and can’t do once vaccinated, it may help to understand the whys behind these guidelines, including what we know and what we don’t know.
What we know is that all three currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly effective at protecting recipients from severe illness, hospitalization, and death. They’re also very good at preventing any symptomatic illness at all. What this means is that vaccinated individuals are highly protected from COVID-19. Even if infected with the virus, they are unlikely to get sick. And even if they get sick, their symptoms are likely to be relatively mild.
But can vaccinated individuals who become unknowingly infected transmit the virus to others? That’s the big unknown. Early data on that question are promising, but until we know more, experts say, it makes sense for vaccinated people to proceed with caution — not because they are likely to be in danger themselves, but because their choices might put others at risk.
In other words, a vaccinated person who takes a flight from Boston to California can be pretty confident that they won’t get sick with COVID-19 as a result. But they can’t be sure that they’re not carrying the virus and spreading it to other passengers during that flight, or that they won’t become asymptomatically infected during their journey and carry it home to unvaccinated family members and friends.
So, don’t plan any massive pool parties or blowout bashes just yet — millions of people are waiting their turn to be vaccinated, and many areas still have significant community spread, which raises the risk for everyone involved. We also need to learn more about how long protection lasts for these vaccines and how well they work against the newer COVID-19 variants.
But even at this point, being fully vaccinated is a chance to dip a toe back into normal life. After a year of distancing from friends and loved ones, you can now find opportunities to connect with others who have also been vaccinated and, on a more limited basis, some who have not. When it comes to this virus, vaccination may never be a ticket to complacency, but as more people get their doses, we’re getting closer and closer to a future where you can check off everything on your post-pandemic bucket list.