With 8,700 UT Health San Antonio faculty, staff and students now vaccinated, and even more vaccinations distributed throughout the community, many are wondering if they can ditch their masks and return to social events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently updated its guidelines for those who are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Here are the changes:
- Fully vaccinated people can now safely gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people, without the need for masks.
- Fully vaccinated people can also safely gather indoors without masks with some unvaccinated people, as long as the unvaccinated individuals are from one household and do not have health conditions that put them at greater risk for illness.
- As long as they do not show symptoms of illness or live in a group setting, fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine or get tested if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive COVID-19.
However, many precautions are still in place for public settings. The CDC still recommends wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding large crowds even for those who have been fully vaccinated.
“The risk of getting COVID-19 is extremely low if you’re vaccinated and the person you’re with is vaccinated,” said Anthony Hartzler, MD, clinical associate professor and infectious disease specialist. “However, when you’re out in public there’s more of a risk. The vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, particularly asymptomatic infection, which would allow someone to spread the disease even though they are vaccinated.”
He goes on to note that there are also concerns surrounding the new COVID-19 strains that are expected to spread throughout the U.S. soon, and some evidence suggests that current vaccines may be less effective against those variants.
“It makes sense to take precautions until we know how those are going to spread and how susceptible people who have been vaccinated are to those strains,” Dr. Hartzler said.
Another concern among public settings is that people will abandon all precautions before there’s enough vaccination in the community to stop another surge from happening, he said.
“When I look at these precautions, I like to think that it isn’t all or none,” Dr. Hartzler said. “Since things are getting better, I’m afraid some people may want to completely forget precautions. It makes more sense to take a middle ground approach where you continue to avoid large crowds, continue to wear a mask in public around a lot of people, have get togethers in smaller groups rather than bringing together several households; these are things that don’t disrupt life that much as we begin to return to normal activity.”
Do you still have questions about what is and isn’t safe? Below are some specific scenarios and questions answered by Dr. Hartzler:
Q: I’ve been vaccinated and my high-risk grandmother has been vaccinated. Can I visit with her and hug her without a mask?
A: Yes. The likelihood that she could get sick is really low since she’s been vaccinated and the likelihood that you could pass the disease on to her is also low since you’ve been vaccinated. So yes, it is ok to be around your grandmother without a mask on since she is fully vaccinated.
Q: My family wants to have a small birthday get together for my sister. Everyone in the family has been vaccinated, but her husband has not received his. He is young and healthy; do we need to wear masks because he will be there?
A: The likelihood of spreading COVID-19 with everyone but one person having been vaccinated is very low. The real issue becomes if you add another household that also has a person that isn’t vaccinated. Then you’d have two unvaccinated people, and if you go without masks, those two people now pose a risk for greater spread.
Q: My in-laws have invited me and my parents over for Easter dinner. My parents, my husband and I are all fully vaccinated, but my husband’s parents have not been vaccinated. They are in their 60’s and have diabetes and heart disease. Should we wear masks?
A: I would recommend mask wearing for that. It’s still going to be low risk for transmission, but the risk of them getting really sick if they do catch it is higher. You should wear a mask in that case.
For more information about safety guidelines for the vaccinated, please visit the CDC COVID-19 Vaccine page. For more questions answered by UT Health San Antonio experts about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, please visit our Impact site.