CDC Lifts Masking, Distancing Requirements for Fully Vaccinated Individuals

March 9, 2021
Grace Halsey

The CDC on March 8, 2021, lifted some COVID-19 restrictions for fully vaccinated Americans, including the need for a mask and social distancing in certain situations.

In its first set of public health recommendations on the topic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday announced that fully vaccinated individuals can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or maintaining 6 feet of social distance.

To clarify terms, the CDC said a person is considered fully vaccinated at 2 weeks following their final dose of any of the 3 vaccines currently granted FDA emergency use authorization in the United States - the 2-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

While the guidance is a positive first step toward something that feels more like "normal" life, the CDC cautions that that the majority of US residents will need to be fully vaccinated before COVID-19 precautions can be lifted broadly. The CDC estimates that, even with the vaccination rate accelerating, only an estimated 9.2% of the US population has been fully vaccinated with one of the 3 vaccines in distribution.

“It's important to note that this is initial guidance,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, during a press briefing. “The science of COVID-19 is complex, and our understanding of the virus continues to rapidly evolve. The recommendations issued today are just a first step. As more people get vaccinated and the science and evidence expand, and as the disease dynamics of this country change, we will continue to update this guidance.”

The guidance includes recommendations on how and when a fully vaccinated person can visit with others who are fully vaccinated as well as with people who are not and lifts the requirement for quarantine and testing. They can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart.
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart if everyone in the other household is at low risk for severe disease.
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 after contact with someone who has COVID-19.

When vaccinated people visit unvaccinated people at high risk for severe COVID-19, “all attendees should take precautions including wearing a well-fitted mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and visiting outdoors or in a well-ventilated space,” the CDC said.

The guidance also details which mitigation activities fully vaccinated people need to continue when in public, when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple other households, and when around unvaccinated people who are at high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19:

  • Wear a well-fitted mask.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from people you do not live with.
  • Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers.
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.

CDC also has made resources available to help people make informed decisions once vaccinated - you may want to offer these to patients.