You’re fully vaccinated? New CDC guidelines say you can see some friends indoors without masks.

You’ve been fully vaccinated: two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or one shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine plus several weeks for your immune system to fully respond. Now what can you do?

New guidelines from the CDC published Monday, March 8, offer good news: You can see your family or have other vaccinated friends over, indoors, without a mask (with a caveat).

“If you’ve been fully vaccinated,” the new guidelines read:

You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.

You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

In other words, if you want to have other fully vaccinated friends over for dinner, the CDC says that you should go ahead. The reduced risk of infection and transmission on both sides (yours and theirs) makes this a basically safe activity.

If you want to gather indoors with relatives or friends who aren’t fully vaccinated, that also poses much lower risk now that you’re vaccinated — so you can do it. But the risk is not as low as when everyone is vaccinated, so you shouldn’t do it if anyone at increased risk of severe Covid-19 might be affected (including high-risk people who live with those who want to gather). If you have elderly or immunocompromised loved ones who haven’t yet been vaccinated, you should get them vaccinated before you hang out.

The CDC emphasizes that in order for these rules to apply, you must be fully vaccinated: if you got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you need both doses, and for any vaccine, it should be two weeks since you got your last vaccine dose. “If it has been less than 2 weeks since your shot, or if you still need to get your second dose, you are NOT fully protected. Keep taking all prevention steps until you are fully vaccinated,” the guidelines read.

They also emphasize that even vaccinated people should keep taking precautions in public spaces shared with crowds of strangers, including masks and social distancing.

The CDC expects to revise these recommendations over the next couple of months, as more people are vaccinated and more data comes in on how much exactly the vaccines protect the people around you. But for now, vaccinated people can enjoy vastly increased freedom in private with friends and family — while still masking up in public as we fight to get the vaccine more widely available.

The new CDC guidelines are a reflection of just how good the Covid-19 vaccines are

The Covid-19 vaccines available in the US are highly effective against the virus. Until recently, though, that wasn’t reflected in CDC recommendations for how vaccinated people can act.

Before the update, the CDC rules said that vaccinated people do not need to quarantine for 14 days after an exposure to the virus. But that was the only difference between the CDC guidance for vaccinated people and their guidance for those who weren’t.

For weeks, experts have been expressing frustration that the CDC guidelines don’t share more that vaccinated people can do. “Advising people that they must do nothing differently after vaccination — not even in the privacy of their homes — creates the misimpression that vaccines offer little benefit at all. Vaccines provide a true reduction of risk, not a false sense of security,” epidemiologist Julia Marcus argued in the Atlantic.

“CDC’s continuing delay in issuing guidance for what vaccinated people can do illustrates a broader problem: Public health has chosen caution over celebration” when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccines,” George Washington Public Health’s Leana Wen argued Friday on Twitter and in the Washington Post. “If this doesn’t change, Americans could be dissuaded from being vaccinated, and our country might never achieve the goal of herd immunity.”

Among those experts, the new guidelines were greeted with relief. “CDC totally gets it right,” Ashish Jha of Brown School of Public Health responded. “Vaccinated people can hang with other vaccinated people. Vaccinated grandparents can hug unvaccinated grandkids. Broader public health measures should remain for now because lots of high risk folks are not yet vaccinated.”

While they don’t encourage the full return to normalcy that we all long for just yet, the reassurance that vaccinated people can invite other vaccinated people over for unmasked indoor hangouts, spend time with unvaccinated family members if they’re not at elevated risk, and expect more guidance as more data comes in represents a light at the end of the tunnel for many Americans desperate to hear that they can have their lives back. And it reflects the science, which points to the vaccines being highly effective at reducing risk to the vaccinated person and risk to others.

Covid-19 vaccinations are increasing, with several record days last week and estimates from the Biden administration that the vaccines will be available to all adults by the end of May (90 million doses have been given so far, with exact eligibility criteria varying by state). As more and more Americans join the ranks of the vaccinated, these guidelines are encouraging evidence that normalcy really is just around the corner — and worth waiting for.

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