CDC on Monday released long-awaited guidance on what Americans can do once they've been "fully vaccinated" against Covid-19, easing restrictions on socializing and other activities.
New toolkit: Covid-19 vaccine communications readiness assessment
What Americans can do once they've been fully vaccinated
According to CDC's interim guidance, Americans are considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after they receive Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine or their second dose of Pfizer/BioNTech's or Moderna's two-dose vaccines.
More than 31 million Americans—or nearly 9% of the U.S. population—met these criteria as of Tuesday morning, according to CDC data.
CDC's new guidance states that fully vaccinated people can spend time together indoors with other fully vaccinated people, as well as with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at a low risk of developing a severe case of Covid-19. In these situations, people do not need wear face masks or practice social distancing, the guidance states.
This means, for instance, that fully vaccinated grandparents can visit their healthy children and grandchildren without socially distancing.
According to the guidance, fully vaccinated people also don't need to quarantine or get tested for Covid-19 if they are exposed to the coronavirus, unless they develop symptoms of the disease.
However, fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions when they're visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households, visiting unvaccinated people who at an increased risk of developing severe cases of Covid-19, or in public, according to the guidance. In these circumstances, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear face masks, stay at least six feet away from others, and meet outdoors or in a well-ventilated place.
Fully vaccinated people also should take precautions during social activities in public, including when dining indoors or going to the gym, CDC wrote. Specifically, CDC advises fully vaccinated people to avoid crowds, cover their coughs and sneezes, maintain physical distancing, wear face masks, wash their hands, and follow other public health measures to prevent the novel coronavirus's transmission.
A Biden administration official told Politico that an earlier draft of the CDC's guidance included a section related to precautions during travel, but senior health official decided not to release those recommendations at this time.
CDC director says guidance is 'first step' toward normalcy
During a press conference Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called the guidance a "first step" toward restoring normalcy in how Americans gather together. She said fully vaccinated Americans will be able to undertake more activities as more Americans become vaccinated, evidence emerges on whether vaccines prevent the coronavirus's transmission, and the numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases and deaths decline.
"Like you, I want to be able to return to everyday activities, but science on the protection of public health must guide us," Walensky said. "We continue to have high levels of virus and more readily transmissible variants have been detected in nearly every state. Our understanding of the virus continues to rapidly evolve. As more people get vaccinated and science and evidence expands … we will continue to update this guidance."
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response, said he expects mask mandates could be eased as more Americans get vaccinated because of evidence showing coronavirus transmission from vaccinated people to others is low. "I think as we get more data in that regard, you're going to start seeing the mask mandate for people who are vaccinated be pulled off gradually—not yet, we need the data—but it's going to happen, pretty soon I think," Fauci said.
Several public health observers applauded CDC's new guidance.
Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting CDC director, said the guidance was "welcome news to a nation that is understandably tired of the pandemic and longs to safely resume normal activities." He added, "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."
Others, however, criticized CDC's guidance as too conservative.
Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, said CDC's guidance is reasonable in many regards, but the agency "need[s] to relax travel for those vaccinated" and immediately issue electronic standards for documents showing whether a person is fully vaccinated.
Similarly, Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said the guidance is "far too cautious." She added, "CDC is missing a major opportunity to tie vaccination status with reopening guidance. By coming out with such limited guidance, they are missing the window to influence state and national policy."
Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands
Meanwhile, data compiled by the Times shows that U.S. officials on Monday reported about 98,513 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported about 29.1 million cases since the United States' epidemic began.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 59,090—down by 12% compared with the average from two weeks ago.
However, the Times' data showed that, as of Tuesday morning, the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Washington, D.C., and 14 states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.
In addition, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "going up" as of Tuesday morning in Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which have had comparatively lower case rates, the Times reports.
According to the data, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" or declining from previously higher rates in the remaining U.S. states and territories.
Further, data from the Times shows that U.S. officials reported about 815 new deaths linked to the coronavirus on Monday. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported about 525,467 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.
(Hall, Wall Street Journal, 3/8; Facher, STAT News, 3/8; Rabin, New York Times, 3/8; Sun/Bernstein, Washington Post, 3/8; Stobbe, Associated Press, 3/8; Banco et al., Politico, 3/8; CDC guidance, 3/8; Hall, Wall Street Journal, 3/8; New York Times, 3/9; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 3/9).