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March 1, 2021

What can you do once you're vaccinated? Here's what Fauci and other experts say.

Daily Briefing

    More Americans are receiving Covid-19 vaccines, but amid persistently high rates of coronavirus transmission, it may not be clear which activities are safe for vaccinated Americans to resume.

    How long will Americans need to wear masks? Here's Fauci's prediction.

    Here's what CDC and public health experts say—and what activities Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response, has resumed since getting vaccinated.

    What may (and may not) be safe after vaccinations

    At least so far, CDC recommends that even people who are fully vaccinated continue to adhere to social distancing requirements. According to an FAQ on the agency's website, fully vaccinated individuals should continue to "wear a mask over [their] nose and mouth," "stay at least 6 feet away from others," and follow other precautions "to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how Covid-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions."

    But some experts have suggested that greater flexibility is reasonable. In particular, they suggest that vaccinated people likely could gather in "immunity bubbles," or groups of people who all have been completely vaccinated against Covid-19.

    "If you are vaccinated, and you are with someone who's vaccinated, the things that you can do are much, much more liberal in the sense of pulling back on stringent public health measures, versus when you're out in society," Fauci said

    And if you've been vaccinated and want to give another vaccinated person a hug, that's reasonable, Fauci said.

    "Can I sit down and give them a hug?" he asked. "The answer is very likely, 'Of course you can.'"

    However, Fauci cautioned that people should be careful if a vaccinated grandparent or other individual is visiting unvaccinated family, "because Grandma could still get virus in her nasopharynx, even though the vaccine is preventing her from getting physically ill," and then she potentially could pass the virus along to unvaccinated people.

    Similarly, Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and medical director of the HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said if people have been vaccinated, they should feel free to mingle among other vaccinated people with no restrictions. However, if vaccinated people are among unvaccinated people, everyone should still wear masks, she added.

    "Let's keep it safe and keep our masks on around the unvaccinated," she said.

    CDC Director Rochelle Walensky also emphasized the importance of continuing to wear masks and adhere to other coronavirus countermeasures even if you're vaccinated against Covid-19.

    "Masks work, and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly. … Masks should be used in combination with other prevention measures to offer you and your community the most protection from Covid-19: Stay at least six feet apart from other people you don't live with, avoid crowds, and travel and wash your hands often," she said.

    Ultimately, there isn't a "one-size-fits-all guid[e]" to what it's safe for vaccinated people to do, Rachel Gutman wrote in The Atlantic. But after speaking with experts, Gutman identified a common theme: "When deciding what you can and can't do, you should think less about your own vaccination status, and more about whether your neighbors, family, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, and friends are still vulnerable to the virus," she wrote.

    What Fauci is—and isn't—doing now that he's vaccinated

    Fauci received his second dose of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine in January, and he recently spoke to WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., about what he's doing in his day-to-day life now.

    Fauci said he has vaccinated guests over to his house, but he remains careful. "If we have someone in the house that would be a non-occupant of the house, it's somebody that we know has either been vaccinated or tests themselves very, very frequently," he said. "So we're still very careful."

    Fauci also said he orders takeout from restaurants, but he doesn't dine indoors—even though indoor dining is permitted, at least to some capacity, in many jurisdictions. According to CDC, eating indoors is a high-risk activity for coronavirus transmission, even if capacity is reduced and tables are spaced apart.

    Facui's also not flying yet "for a number of reasons," he said. "I'm at the age that is still at a pretty high risk" for severe Covid-19, Fauci said, so resuming flying is "not going to be like a light switch that you turn on and off."

    Fauci said he's also still wears a mask in public, per CDC recommendations. Overall, he said, "I have not really changed much in my public health measures that I abide by" (Stieg, CNBC, 2/24; Gutman, The Atlantic, 2/25; Lin et. al., Los Angeles Times, 2/25; CDC website, 2/25).

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