| The Detroit News
Fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from federal health officials.
The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the guidance Monday.
The guidance is designed to address a growing demand, as more adults have been getting vaccinated and wondering if it gives them greater freedom to visit family members, travel, or do other things like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world last year.
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“With more and more people vaccinated each day, we are starting to turn a corner,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
During a press briefing Monday, she called the guidance a “first step” toward restoring normalcy in how people come together. She said more activities would be OK’d for vaccinated individuals once caseloads and deaths decline, more Americans are vaccinated, and as more science emerges on the ability of those who have been vaccinated to get and spread the virus.
Taking his grandmother to get vaccinated was a hopeful moment for Randall Coats when he, his girlfriend and his grandmother all received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines last month.
Even though his grandmother only lives five minutes away from his downtown Detroit home, Coats had not seen her before then since he moved back to the city four months ago. And even after getting vaccinated, Coats has been wary of letting go of his mask around her.
“It’s still that air of caution,” said Coats, 35. “We still have to be careful and operate in a certain way … we treat it in the same way.”
The CDC is continuing to recommend that fully vaccinated people still wear well-fitted masks, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance themselves from others when out in public. The CDC also advised vaccinated people to get tested if they develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19.
The guidance did not speak to people who may have gained some level of immunity from being infected, and recovering from, the coronavirus.
Officials say a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. About 31 million Americans — or only about 9% of the U.S. population — have been fully vaccinated with a federally authorized COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to the CDC.
For Coats and his girlfriend, Ivy Raff, the CDC guidance doesn’t change how they will interact with family, but they are already planning on slowly moving toward a life of normal activities once they receive their second vaccination shot on March 22, with a vacation planned to New Orleans soon.
“I can now really focus on my actions protecting people who haven’t been vaccinated… the whole ‘we’re all in this together’ thing is easier to believe when you’re not having anxiety about your own health,” said Raff, 38.
Authorized vaccine doses first became available in December, and they were products that required two doses spaced weeks apart. But since January, a small but growing number of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and have been asking questions like: Do I still have to wear a mask? Can I go to a bar now? Can I finally see my grandchildren?
The guidance was “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 and a former acting director of the CDC.
“I hope that this new guidance provides the momentum for everyone to get vaccinated when they can and gives states the patience to follow the public health roadmap needed to reopen their economies and communities safely,” said Besser, in a statement.
The CDC said additional virus precautions can be lifted on a more broad level once the vast majority of Americans have been vaccinated. In Michigan, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services advises the same.
“We are currently reviewing the CDC recommendations released today. At this time, we urge Michiganders to continue doing what works to prevent the spread of the virus when out in public — wearing a mask, washing their hands often, social distancing and making plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine when it is their turn,” said Lynn Stuffin, an MDHHS spokeswoman, in a statement.
Business as usual
The first thing Latonya Garth, 39, did when she received her second dose of the vaccine in February was put on her mask, grab her hand sanitizer and “go about her business.”
The Warren resident does feel better knowing she and her 65-year-old father and 55-year-old stepmother have all had their doses of the vaccine. However, Garth said she isn’t letting her guard down around anyone that isn’t her parents or daughter, even if they’ve been vaccinated, too.
Protecting herself and others from COVID has been a priority for Garth after her 7-year-old daughter lost her grandfather to the virus in April.
“How do you protect everybody that’s around as well as yourself… I’m still not to the point where I’m like, ‘OK, I’m taking mask off, I’m living normal,” Garth said. “I actually appreciate the fact that people are still wearing masks.”
On the flip side, there are others who rejoiced in the CDC’s new guidance.
Susmita Das, a research scholar at the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit, has been fully vaccinated since February and has taken full advantage of it.
Das and her colleagues in the medical field are all vaccinated and have gathered together for small celebratory parties and dinners without wearing any masks.
Since she hasn’t seen her family in India during the pandemic, Das said she’s planning on visiting them in the next few months since she’s had the vaccine. Das now has a sense of relief with the vaccine, she said.
“It’s like breathing fresh air, now I don’t feel scared like before,” said Das, 32. “I was still wearing masks after I was vaccinated because the CDC didn’t say not to and people may worry seeing me without masks because they don’t know that I’m vaccinated … but I’m no longer being scared of going out, having fun and traveling.”
Too much caution?
And then some said the CDC guidance remains too cautious.
Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, said the guidance is reasonable in many respects — with the exception of travel.
The CDC did not change its recommendations on travel, which discourages unnecessary travel and calls for getting tested within a few days of the trip. That could seem confusing to vaccinated people hoping to visit family across the country or abroad.
“They need to relax travel for those vaccinated” and to immediately publish electronic standards for documents that show whether a person is fully vaccinated, said Khan, who formerly was a leading CDC disease detective.
The new guidance also says nothing about going to restaurants or other places, even though governors are lifting restrictions on businesses, said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who formerly was Baltimore’s health commissioner.
Wen has said the CDC should have had some kind of post-vaccination guidance ready in January, when some people first began to finish their second doses. And she called the guidance that came out Monday “far too cautious.”
“The CDC is missing a major opportunity to tie vaccination status with reopening guidance,” Wen said in an email. “By coming out with such limited guidance, they are missing the window to influence state and national policy.”
Detroit News Staff Writer Ariana Taylor and Associated Press contributed.
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