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Americans vaccinated, let the unmasked gatherings start (but start small)

Federal health officials told millions of Americans now vaccinated against the coronavirus on Monday that they could once again embrace a few long-denied freedoms, such as gathering in small groups at home without masks or social distancing, offering insight optimistic about the next phase of the pandemic.

The recommendations, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came almost exactly a year after the virus began strangling the country and Americans have been warned against gatherings for fear of spreading the new pathogen.

Now, the agency has good news for long-separated families and those struggling with pandemic isolation: Vaccinated grandparents can once again visit adult children and grandchildren under certain circumstances, even if they are not vaccinated. Vaccinated adults can start planning maskless dinners with vaccinated friends.

As cases and deaths decline across the country, some state officials are rushing to reopen businesses and schools; the governors of Texas and Mississippi lifted statewide mask warrants. Federal health officials have repeatedly warned against easing restrictions too quickly, fearing the measures set the stage for a fourth wave of infections and deaths.

The new recommendations aim to push Americans on a more cautious path with clear limits for safe behavior, while recognizing that much of the country remains vulnerable and that many scientific questions remain unanswered.

“As more Americans get vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, at a White House press conference on Monday.

President Biden will deliver his first prime-time televised speech on Thursday, marking the first anniversary of the outbreak of the pandemic and stressing “the role Americans will play” in bringing the country “back to normal,” Jen Psaki, press of the White House. secretary, told reporters Monday.

As of Monday, 60 million Americans had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, of which about 31.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated with the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson or the two-dose series manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, according to a database maintained by the New York Times. Providers administer an average of 2.17 million doses per day.

Mr Biden has promised there will be enough doses for every American adult by the end of May. On Monday, CDC officials encouraged people to get vaccinated with the first vaccine they had, stressing that the vaccines are very effective in preventing “serious Covid-19 disease, hospitalization and death.”

Despite the rapid acceleration in the pace of vaccination, the pandemic will not recede overnight, said experts who praised the detail and scientific basis of the CDC’s recommendations.

“It’s not about turning a switch on and off,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, vice president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It’s more like turning on a faucet – you slowly start to turn off the faucet.”

Even so, “this is good news,” he added. “It’s the first time they’ve said you can do something, rather than saying everything you can’t do. It’s enormous.”

The new guidelines provide much-needed advice for people who are still hesitant to resume in-person interactions, even after being vaccinated, said Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association.

About half of all adults are anxious to resume normal life, including 44% of those who have been fully vaccinated, Dr. Wright said, citing soon-to-be published research from the American Psychological Association. “What drives this discomfort is the level of uncertainty,” she said.

“It’s really hard to know what’s safe and what’s not. When we can get scientific information out to people – “Here’s what you can do, but we always recommend doing it” – it gives people what they need to make informed decisions to keep themselves and their families safe. . “

In the new guidelines, federal health officials said fully immunized Americans can congregate indoors in private homes in small groups with other fully immunized people, without masks or distances.

They can congregate with unvaccinated people in a private home without a mask or distance as long as the unvaccinated people occupy a single household and all members are at low risk of developing serious illness if they contract the virus.

For example, vaccinated grandparents can visit healthy unvaccinated adult children and healthy grandchildren without a mask or physical distance.

When asked if vaccinated family members should hug and hug unvaccinated children and grandchildren, Dr del Rio said yes but advised caution: “I don’t. wouldn’t do too much.

In public spaces and places like restaurants or gyms, people vaccinated should continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and take other precautions, such as avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, and wash their hands often, CDC officials said.

The CDC’s advice is for fully immunized Americans, that is, those for whom at least two weeks have passed since receiving the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or a single dose. of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

What is safe for newly vaccinated Americans and their unvaccinated neighbors and family members is largely uncertain because scientists do not yet understand whether and how often immunized people can still transmit the virus. If they can, masking and other precautions are still needed in some settings to contain the virus, researchers said.

The CDC said Monday that research indicated that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infections and “potentially less likely to pass the virus that causes Covid-19 to other people.” Still, the agency hasn’t ruled out the possibility that they may inadvertently transmit the virus.

There is also uncertainty about how vaccines protect against newer variants of the virus that are more transmissible and possibly more virulent, as well as how long vaccine protection lasts. Some of the variants carry mutations that appear to blunt the body’s immune response.

The CDC has indicated that vaccinated Americans do not need to quarantine or get tested if they are exposed to the virus, unless they develop symptoms of infection. If they do, they should self-isolate, get tested if possible, and talk to their doctor.

Vaccinated Americans should not congregate with unvaccinated people from more than one household and should continue to avoid large and medium sized gatherings. (The agency did not specify what size constitutes a large or medium-sized gathering.)

The guidelines are slightly different for fully vaccinated group home residents and incarcerated individuals, who should continue to be quarantined for 14 days and be tested if exposed to the virus, due to the higher risk of transmission in such contexts.

Workers vaccinated in high-density environments like meat packing plants do not need to quarantine after exposure to the coronavirus, but testing is still recommended.

The CDC has not revised its travel recommendations, continuing to advise all Americans to stay home unless necessary. Dr Walensky noted that virus cases have increased whenever there has been an increase in travel.

“We are really trying to restrict travel,” she said. “And we’re hoping that our next set of guidelines will contain more science on what vaccinated people can do, maybe travel among them.”

The new guidelines clearly detail the benefits of vaccination and are likely to motivate even more Americans to get vaccinated and reduce persistent reluctance to vaccinate, said Dr Rebecca Weintraub, assistant professor of global health and medicine. social at Harvard Medical School.

“You can take up an activity that a lot of people aspire to – being near their loved ones, at small gatherings where you can see yourself smiling and hugging yourself,” Dr. Weintraub said.

“It has been well studied that anticipation is an important component of joy,” she added. “These guidelines help everyone coming for the vaccine anticipate their future joy. As a doctor and vaccinator, I am delighted.

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

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