CDC COVID-19 vaccinated advice released: Masks, mixed groups & hugs

The US CDC has released new guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, explaining the latest advice for visiting those who are unvaccinated, when masks can be taken off, and more. It's a long-anticipated update, with rising concerns that as America's vaccinated population increases, uncertainty among families and extended families about just what sort of social distancing may still be required is growing.

The new CDC guidelines will mean more flexibility among groups of fully vaccinated people, as well as a controlled softening of the rules around mixed groups of those who have received, and who are yet to receive, the vaccine. If you're fully vaccinated, for example, the CDC says it now believes you're safe to visit indoors with other fully vaccinated people, without needing to socially-distance or wear a mask at the time.

If you're fully vaccinated, and meeting up with unvaccinated people, the rules are slightly more complex. If you're from a single household, and one which is at low risk for severe COVID-19, you can do so without requiring distancing or masks the CDC said today.

However, gatherings of medium or large scale, and which include unvaccinated people from multiple households, should still be avoided. That's in part because, though the impact of COVID-19 can be low to those who are vaccinated, they can still be infected with the disease and pass it on to others.

As for grandparents and their young grandchildren, the CDC says, there's a little more flexibilty there too. Assuming none of the unvaccinated family members in the household are at risk of severe COVID-19, a fully vaccinated grandparent can now have indoor visits – without masks or physical distancing – with their children and grandchildren. That includes hugs.

There are some important provisos, as you might expect. The most significant is that just because you've been injected with the vaccine, that doesn't mean you're instantly safe to be around others. As the CDC points out, those who are receiving the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses – separated roughly a month apart – before they're considered "fully" vaccinated. The more recently authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in contrast is a single shot.

Even then, though, the CDC says individuals should wait at least two weeks until after the final dose before they consider themselves fully vaccinated. That's because the body requires time to develop maximum immunity.

"If it has been less than 2 weeks since your shot, or if you still need to get your second dose, you are NOT fully protected," the CDC warns. "Keep taking all prevention steps until you are fully vaccinated."

While the rules around mask-wearing can be softened for those in groups of fully vaccinated people, meanwhile, the CDC says that it's still important to wear face coverings in other situations. That means in public places such as grocery stores or on buses or other transit. The CDC recommends still avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.

If exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, the CDC adds, those who are fully vaccinated do not need to either quarantine or be tested themselves. That is, assuming they remain asymptomatic: i.e. have no visible symptoms of COVID-19. However the rules are different if someone vaccinated live in a group setting – such as a nursing home, or a correctional or detention facility – with those exposed people needing to isolate for 14 days and have a COVID-19 test.

As for travel, the CDC still recommends delaying domestic and international travel if at all possible. If it's unavoidable, the existing guidance on how to do it as safely as possible remains. Workplace guidance also remains in place.