By Ann McCreary
People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can get together indoors with other vaccinated people without masks or social distancing, federal health officials said last week.
The long-awaited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) means that vaccinated people can resume some semblance of pre-pandemic behavior, while still maintaining other precautions.
The CDC also said that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, grandparents visiting children and grandchildren) without masks and distancing, as long as no one in the household is at high risk of illness from COVID-19.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have gotten the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The newly announced guidelines also said that if a fully vaccinated person has been around someone who has COVID-19, they do not need to stay away from other people or get tested unless they have symptoms (unless they live in a group setting).
However, in public settings or gatherings where vaccinated people may be around unvaccinated people from more than one other household, precautions such as masking and social distancing still need to be followed, health officials said. Those precautions should also be followed if visiting an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of illness or death from COVID-19.
The CDC also advised continuing to avoid medium or large-sized gatherings; delaying travel or following CDC recommendations if traveling; getting tested and staying home if experiencing symptoms of COVID-19; and following guidance of individual employers.
“Early data shows that vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are still learning more as more people get vaccinated,” the CDC said. Health officials are also still learning how effective the vaccines are against variants of the coronavirus, and how long the vaccines provide protection against illness and death.
“Once vaccinated, everything you do has less risk for yourself, and likely less risk that you spread the virus to others,” said John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital in Tonasket.
“The vaccine is not a panacea, but we can still feel great about the risk reduction it provides. I’ve talked to patients that were avoiding their grandchildren out of fear that they would contract COVID.”
“The vaccine greatly reduces the risk and all of us can reevaluate what situations we are comfortable with while still following the great guidance from the CDC on recommended precautions including masking, distancing and hand washing,” he said.
“Quite a few people have asked me what’s the point of getting vaccinated if we all still need to wear masks and physically distance,” said Jennifer Best, a spokesperson for Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster. “This is recommended to continue protecting people who haven’t yet received the vaccine, or they can’t get it for health reasons,” she said.
“We also don’t know for certain how long the vaccine will be effective, and the introduction of new [virus] variants may complicate things further,” Best said.
“While being exposed to COVID-19 may not get you sick — or as sick — once you’re vaccinated, you could still potentially spread the virus to others. We need people to get the vaccine in order to reach herd immunity faster, so eventually we can do away with the masks and open everything back up as normal,” Best said.
“Recommendations for the public on masking, distancing, hand/respiratory hygiene, gathering and travel will only change with changes in community-level incidence,” said James Wallace, chief health officer for Okanogan Public Health, “and so we’ll have to wait for vaccinations to be broad enough to impact incidence.”