People who have been completely vaccinated against COVID-19 can meet without masks indoors in small groups with others who have been inoculated, but should avoid non-essential travel and continue to wear face masks in public, the Biden administration said on Monday.
In a long-awaited update of its guidelines for behaviors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that fully vaccinated people could also be found in small groups of unvaccinated individuals who were judged to have a low risk of severe COVID-19 from another household without masks.
The small lifting of restrictions represented a still cautious approach to public health guidance despite the rapidly growing number of vaccinated people. President Joe Biden has called on the United States to remain vigilant and continue to follow the CDC guidelines to prevent a further rise in cases.
The CDC said fully vaccinated people should continue to follow many precautions, such as avoiding large personal gatherings, wearing masks when visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households, or wearing masks when at risk of severe COVID-19.
CDC chief Rochelle Walensky told reporters that it was important to protect those who have not been vaccinated and remain vulnerable while about 60,000 new cases of coronavirus occur every day.
“We remain in the midst of a serious pandemic and still over 90 percent of our population is not fully vaccinated,” she said. “Therefore, everyone, whether they are vaccinated or not, should continue to avoid medium-sized and large gatherings as well as non-essential travel.”
More than 525,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Biden, who took office on January 20, has encouraged Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days as president, in contrast to former President Donald Trump’s stance, which downplayed the pandemic and avoided masks. Some states have begun to remove restrictions on a large scale.
Many Americans are anxious to get back to their pre-pandemic way of seeing vaccinations as a way to do it. Companies, especially in the travel and hotel industry, hope that a growing number of vaccinated people will feel comfortable flying and eating out again.
‘An important first step’
The new guidelines address how vaccinated people can safely resume some more normal activities and contacts with them outside their households while the coronavirus is still circulating to a large extent, but they did not represent a major shift.
“Today’s action is an important first step. It is not our final destination,” Walensky said. “As more people are vaccinated, levels of COVID-19 infection decrease in communities, and as our understanding of COVID immunity increases, we look forward to updating these recommendations to the public.”
The recommendations come because about 30 million people, or 9.2% of the US population, have been completely vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc / BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data.
Nearly 18% of the U.S. population, or 58.9 million adults, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The new guidelines were “reasonable and fairly appropriate,” said Carlos del Rio, executive dean of the Emory School of Medicine. “We need to start telling people what to do, and thus the guidelines are pretty clear.”
Currently approved COVID-19 vaccines prevent humans from becoming ill but not necessarily from becoming infected. Data on whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus to unprotected people are sparse, and Walensky warned that at-risk people could continue to spread the disease.
The CDC last month said vaccinated individuals could skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as they remain asymptomatic.