The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines on Monday that, for the first time ever, offer reassurances to vaccinated Americans that they can begin the process of resuming normal life.
The rules are meant for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, and do not apply to people in healthcare settings. "Fully vaccinated" means that those Americans have waited at least two weeks since either receiving two doses of the mRNA vaccines manufactured by Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's conventional vaccine. By that time, public health officials believe that one's body is fully immunized against SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
The new guidelines are not entirely permissive, but they do gradually roll back restrictions to which millions of Americans have grown accustomed. The CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can socialize with other fully vaccinated Americans while indoors, without needing to wear a mask or socially distance. They are also informed that they can visit unvaccinated people from single households while indoors, and without wearing a mask or social distancing, as long as the unvaccinated individuals are at low risk of contracting severe COVID-19. (People at high risk are those with underlying serious health conditions, like cancer or heart disease, or who are over the age of 65.) Finally, the guidelines state that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to be tested or quarantined "following a known exposure if asymptomatic."
"As more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities fully vaccinated people can do," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained during a White House briefing on Monday.
Yet Walensky emphasized that America is not done with the pandemic yet.
"I want to stress that we continue to have high levels of virus around the country, and more readily transmissible variants have now been confirmed in nearly every state," Walensky said. "While we work to quickly vaccinate people more and more each day, we have to see this through."
The CDC's new guidelines stand in stark contrast to the more drastic reversals being implemented in many Republican-run states like Texas and Mississippi, where leaders are entirely eliminating mask mandates and business restrictions — a move that alarms public health experts.
"From both a public health and economic/societal perspective, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is not an all or none affair, especially as an increasingly larger proportion of the US population is now being vaccinated," Dr. Russell Medford, Chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation and Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, told Salon by email. "As the CDC just announced today regarding new guidelines that ease personal restrictions for those fully-vaccinated against COVID, our nation's goal to eliminate COVID-19 can be achieved in concert with responsible and gradual easing of state restrictions that reflect a reduction in risk of resurgence of the pandemic. "