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Vaccinated Americans can gather inside without masks or social distancing in certain circumstances, CDC guidelines say

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines Monday designed to ease restrictions for Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The agency’s guidance says those who have received a full course of COVID-19 vaccine may get together with other fully vaccinated individuals in small groups inside their homes without masks or physical distancing. They can visit with unvaccinated people from one other household who are at low risk for severe disease.

The guidelines say fully vaccinated people don’t need to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test if they’ve been exposed, unless they’re symptomatic. They should still monitor for symptoms for 14 days even if they’re not in quarantine.

“You can visit your grandparents if you’ve been vaccinated and they have been, too,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Monday. “If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family even if  they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease.”

Vaccinated individuals should still wear a mask and social distance in public settings and avoid medium to large gatherings. The agency has yet to release updated guidelines on travel for those who have been vaccinated. CDC guidelines recommend delaying travel but provide a list of public health measures in the case that someone must travel.

“The new guidance from CDC on what people can do if they are fully vaccinated is welcome news to a nation that is understandably tired of the pandemic and longs to safely resume normal activities,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Experts said the announcement may be the agency’s attempt to clear up confusion created by some states rolling back coronavirus safety measures despite public warnings from health officials.

Five states – Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Montana and Iowa – announced plans to rescind mandates on wearing masks. President Joe Biden said Wednesday it’s a “big mistake” for states to lift pandemic restrictions, calling it a result of “Neanderthal thinking.”

Whether the guidelines will clear things up is still up for debate, said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The difference in tone from last week’s White House briefing, when Walensky urged Americans to keep their guard up on the virus and “not give in to a sense of false security,” may only further confuse Americans.

“It’s almost two different pathways here,” El-Sadr said. “Imploring people to stay with it, continue to be guarded and careful, while at the same time realizing that people are fatigued (and) ease restrictions for this subset of (vaccinated) individuals.”

Though she recognizes the need for national guidance, El-Sadr said it may be a bit premature to allow people to gather inside without masks as there’s no data on asymptomatic transmission and only about 18% of the U.S. population has received one or more doses of vaccine, according to CDC data.

Other experts disagree.

“People are tired and there’s a lot of pandemic fatigue, and it’s really important that we don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine, who wrote a viewpoint published in JAMA Network on Thursday that said it’s “likely safe” to gather with other vaccinated individuals.

“People are going to do things whether we like it or not, and it’s important to tell people what they can do safely instead of what not to do,” he said.

The pace of vaccinations has ramped up to more than 2 million Americans getting vaccinated per day.

The Biden administration said Tuesday there will be enough vaccine for every adult in the USA by May, thanks to a deal brokered between pharmaceutical giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson , but health experts said that milestone could be reached by mid-April .

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