The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new set of guidelines for fully vaccinated people that allow for indoor and mask-free socializing in certain scenarios.
“It’s been a crazy roller coaster ride over the last year, but right now there’s a lot of optimism because of the vaccines, and obviously a lot of effort going into distribution and rollout and making sure that we prioritize the people that need the vaccine quickly,” says Paul K. Drain, MD, associate professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle.
Although the vaccine effort is picking up steam, the majority of Americans haven’t been fully immunized, according to the CDC. This has led to concern that the huge spike in cases that followed Thanksgiving could repeat itself after the spring holidays because of the new, more contagious coronavirus variants coupled with people being more relaxed about gathering or wearing masks, Dr. Drain says.“My advice to everyone is to err on the side of caution when it comes to taking precautions against the virus. I’m hopeful that we’re reaching the tail end of COVID-19, but it’s going to take all of us continuing to be vigilant and following guidelines. We need to be extra careful in what are hopefully the final months of widespread infections and mortalities,” says Drain.
How careful, you ask? Keep reading to find out answers to your questions about celebrating the upcoming holidays and planning spring travel.
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What Is the Safest Way to Celebrate Easter or Passover?
First, the good news: If you are fully vaccinated, you can gather indoors and mask-less with unvaccinated people from one other household, according to the CDC. That means, for instance, that vaccinated grandparents can celebrate with their unvaccinated children and grandchildren from a single household, as long as none is at risk for severe COVID-19 because of factors such as pregnancy or an underlying medical condition.
If you have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you continue to avoid social gatherings with anyone outside your household who has also not been vaccinated.
If you choose to get together with people you don’t live with, remember that small gatherings are safer, according to the agency.
“At this time, just given where we are and having relatively few people vaccinated, the recommendations are still to avoid medium and large in-person gatherings,” says Drain.
Participating virtually in a religious service is the safer way to worship this year. There are many online options, and you could even do a group chat or video call at the same time as a way to feel more connected to loved ones.
If you are going to gather with people you don’t live with, follow these tips from the CDC to make the event as safe as possible:
- Wear a mask with two or more layers. Make sure the mask fits securely under your chin and cover your nose and mouth.
- Wear your mask indoors and out except when eating or drinking.
- Stay at least six feet away from people from outside your household.
- Avoid direct contact, such as handshakes and hugs.
- Gathering outdoors is safest. If you must gather indoors, keep rooms ventilated by opening doors and windows wherever possible.
- If your gathering involves food or drink, it’s better when guests bring their own. If that’s not possible, have one person serve all the food.
- People should wash their hands thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water when arriving at and leaving any social gathering. People should also wash their hands before serving or eating food. For drying hands, it’s recommended that people use disposable hand towels or paper towels rather than sharing a towel.
- If there is no available place to wash hands, people should use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
What Does It Mean to Be Fully Vaccinated?
The CDC released updated guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated. For the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, you are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after receiving the second dose. For the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting the shot.
“That’s just accounting for the time period that it takes to build up the immune response and the antibodies. People need to keep that window in mind and know that you’re not automatically protected as soon as you get your shot,” says Drain.
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If You’ve Been Vaccinated, Do You Still Need to Wear a Mask if You’re Getting Together With a Lot of People?
The CDC says it’s okay for fully vaccinated people to gather without masks and indoors with other fully vaccinated people as long as it’s a small group, says Drain.
This is not the case for larger gatherings that include people from multiple households, including unvaccinated adults. Scientists are still gathering data to determine whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus even if they don’t get sick themselves, so at this point public health experts urge caution.
“The recommendation is really to work to accommodate those people that have not been vaccinated,” Drain says. That means continuing to follow all the precautions around masking and social distancing, he adds.
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Is It Safe to Participate in an Easter Egg Hunt or an Outdoor Religious Service?
The safest type of Easter egg hunt would only include people from your household, according to the CDC. The next safest would be a small outside gathering where everyone attending can maintain at least six feet of distance from each other. Everyone should wear a mask if the gathering includes people from more than one household.
A medium or large Easter egg hunt would carry more risk, says Drain. “You’d also have to assume that there’s going to be some people there who have not been vaccinated. In that case, the recommendation would be that anybody who participates in outdoor gatherings, Easter egg hunts, or anything else should wear a mask and practice social distancing and take the typical precautions,” says Drain.
Whether it’s safe to participate in this type of gathering also depends on whether anyone in attendance is at high risk for severe COVID-19, he says.
“For example, if there is a family member who is either elderly or pregnant or has underlying lung conditions or deficiencies, and they haven’t been vaccinated, the recommendation would still be that they themselves, as well as members of their household, avoid large or medium public gatherings even outdoors,” says Drain.
Everybody who attends that type of event should be wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, he adds.
Do Children Need to Wear Masks?
According to the CDC, everyone 2 years old and up should wear a mask when around people outside their household. If that’s not possible for a child due to certain disabilities, the agency suggests asking your healthcare provider for alternative ways to reduce the risk of transmission.
“Children younger than 2 years old shouldn’t wear a mask due to safety risks,” says Drain.
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Is It Okay to Travel for Spring Break?
There are indications that people have begun traveling this spring and may continue to do so over the holiday break. U.S. airports had close to 1.4 million people pass through on Friday, March 12 — the most on any day since last March.
Travel increases the chances of getting and spreading COVID-19, and the CDC recommends delaying nonessential travel, whether or not you’re vaccinated.
There is good reason to postpone that family trip until more of the population is vaccinated and the virus is better contained. Since the pandemic began, there have been COVID-19 surges after the mass travel that occurs on holidays, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, in a March 12 interview on MSNBC.
Keep in mind that if you do travel in the United States, you are required to wear masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation. If you travel outside the country, you will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery before you board a flight to return to the United States, according to the CDC.
If I’ve Been Vaccinated, Can I Give Someone Else COVID-19 or Vice Versa?
Those studies are still evolving, and there really isn’t good data on that yet, says Drain. “We also need additional data about reinfection among those people that have already been vaccinated as well. Over the next couple of months and certainly through the summer we will be getting a lot more information on vaccinated people regarding whether or not they can become re-infected or if they can spread the virus to other people.”
“All the vaccines lower the chances of getting COVID-19 if you encounter the coronavirus, but they also help prevent people from developing severe infection and death. So, it’s possible for a person who is vaccinated to acquire the virus and potentially pass it on to other people, whether that’s as an asymptomatic infection or a very mild infection,” says Drain.
Will We See Another Spike in COVID-19 Cases After the Spring Holidays?
“There’s a lot of concern that the new coronavirus variants, with their increased transmission and infectivity, are going to drive the number of cases back up again,” says Drain. The new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 seem to spread more easily and quickly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Whether that happens or not depends, in large part, on how vigilant people are about following public health guidelines. “If we see people start to gather and congregate without masks and without social distancing, we’re certainly going to see cases go back up in the regions where that’s happening,” says Drain.
If people can keep their guard up and continue to practice the safety measures that have been discussed and implemented over the last year, then we should continue to move in a very positive direction, he adds.
“I feel like we’re at another precipice where it can really go either way, and it’s really going to depend a lot on the behaviors of people in the general population,” says Drain.