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What You Can Do After You’re Vaccinated, According to the CDC

person removing mask

Photo: Stock 4you (Shutterstock)

The CDC has updated their guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask, even indoors, unless specific rules require it, the CDC announced today. A business can still require you to wear a mask, for example, and you still need to mask up on public transportation and in certain other scenarios, but the list of things it’s safe to do when you’re fully vaccinated is now all green lights.

As before, you are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after your final shot (your second shot of Pfizer or Moderna, or your one-and-only shot of the J&J vaccine).

Vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or socially distance

The CDC summarizes the latest updates like so:

  • Update that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
  • Update that fully vaccinated people can refrain from testing following a known exposure unless they are residents or employees of a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter

A new infographic is all green lights for unmasked vaccinated people in a variety of settings that are considered “less safe” or “least safe” for people who are not yet fully vaccinated. Previously, people who are vaccinated were still advised to wear a mask and to consider some of these scenarios less safe.

For example, the CDC judges that vaccinated people can now safely attend a crowded outdoor event, or a full-capacity church service, or an indoor, high-intensity exercise class.

Vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks when visiting others

Previously, the CDC said that if you are vaccinated, you can spend time indoors with unvaccinated low-risk people from a single household, or with any vaccinated people you like. That guidance is now gone.

The CDC’s guiding principles are that the risk to a vaccinated person is “minimal,” and that the vaccinated person poses a “reduced risk” to unvaccinated people.

While it is possible for a vaccinated person to spread COVID to others, it’s very unlikely. Similarly, the vaccines seem to protect well enough against the known variants that are spreading, but it’s possible that a new variant could appear that evades the protection we have from vaccines.

You don’t need to quarantine or get tested, in most cases

If you are around someone who tests positive for COVID, but you were fully vaccinated at the time, the CDC says you do not need to get tested, or to quarantine, as long as you still feel fine.

If you do develop symptoms, you should consider the possibility that you may have COVID, and you should follow the usual guidelines from there, including getting tested. The exception to this rule is if you live in a group setting, like a nursing home or correctional facility; in that case, the CDC then recommends that you stay away from others for 14 days and get tested.

What rules still apply?

People who are not vaccinated, including children, should continue masking up as before and keeping their distance from others.

Businesses can still require you to wear a mask, and the federal law requiring masks on public transportation (including air travel) still applies. If your state or local area require masks, those laws still apply.

The new CDC guidance only applies to non-healthcare settings, so you should still plan to wear a mask in places like hospitals, doctors’ offices, and nursing homes.

Things may change

The guidelines don’t say how long your protection from the vaccine should be considered to last, because we don’t know yet. The CDC also points out that we are still learning how well the vaccines protect against the variants, and how well they prevent vaccinated people from spreading the virus to others. As we learn more about those three things, the guidelines may well be updated to reflect new knowledge.

The CDC director hinted that new guidance for summer camps and for travel is coming soon.

Does this new guidance actually make us safer?

There’s plenty to argue about here. One possibility is that people who are not vaccinated will claim that they are, to be able to go around maskless. On the other hand, if masks are no longer required in as many settings, the controversy over who is a mask wearer and who is an anti-masker might subside a bit.

If people who aren’t vaccinated start taking off their masks, people who are vaccinated aren’t at much risk. But those who can’t be vaccinated, like children, and people who are at higher risk, like people with certain medical conditions, may be more at risk. The CDC seems to be relying on falling case counts and rising vaccination rates to justify their change of guidance.

Meanwhile, just because you may remove your mask doesn’t mean you have to. Immunocompromised people may want to continue masking even if they are fully vaccinated, and anyone who is still concerned about risks may choose to do so as well.

This post was first published in March of 2021 and was updated on May 13, 2021 when the CDC announced that vaccinated people can go without masks in most indoor settings.


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