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What can you do when you're vaccinated? CDC releases new COVID-19 guidelines

Gathering indoors in small groups is safe again for some folks.

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If you've been fully vaccinated, you can meet up with other vaccinated people in small groups.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Coronavirus vaccinations for more people means inching closer to being able to do the things we loved before the pandemic. If you're ready to (hopefully) move through life without a deadly virus -- and travel, host dinner parties and go to concerts and movies --you're not alone. And if you received your full vaccine already, you can take one step toward making those dreams a reality by following the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for navigating social situations as a vaccinated person.

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now gather indoors in small groups without wearing masks or social distancing, officials said during joint briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team and the CDC in March. 

You're considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC says that based on early data the vaccines may help keep people from spreading the virus. They also reduce the risk of serious illness if you contract it, but being vaccinated is not a guarantee that you won't get the virus or get sick from it.

What you can do if you're vaccinated

We wish we could tell you that once you're fully vaccinated, you can go back to living life like it's 2019, but we aren't quite there yet. Given that only about 9 percent of the US population has been fully vaccinated (as of March 8), it's going to take a while longer before we can all head to concerts and weddings, visit aging relatives and return to offices.

For now, if you've been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, you can have small indoor or outdoor gatherings without wearing a mask or social distancing, but only with other people who have also been fully vaccinated. That removes the limits of gathering with people from more than two households. 

You can also now safely visit unvaccinated people from a single household so long as no one in that household is at an increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Those at an increased risk include people who have underlying health issues and the elderly. 

Fully vaccinated people who are exposed to someone with the virus don't need to quarantine or get a test if they're asymptomatic. However, if they develop symptoms of COVID-19, they should still do both.

Remember that the various coronavirus vaccines don't make you invincible to the virus. It's still possible to be infected after getting the vaccine, get reinfected even if you've had the virus or contract a variant of the virus. The vaccines are thought to protect against the variants, but they aren't a guarantee. "Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others," the CDC says. 

What you still can't do if you've been vaccinated

Don't toss your face masks just yet. Even if you've received the vaccine, you still need to wear a mask and social distance in public. The same goes if you're gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, or visiting an unvaccinated person who's at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk.

"There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement, as previously reported by The Wall Street Journal. "Everyone -- even those who are vaccinated -- should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings."

Can I travel if I am vaccinated?

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Traveling should still wait, even if you're vaccinated.

Getty Images

The CDC says you should continue to avoid traveling, both domestically and internationally. Travel is still considered a high-risk activity and should be avoided whenever possible. In the event you need to travel, you must follow the CDC's guidelines.

Can I go to restaurants and bars?

Despite the fact that many states in the US are lifting restrictions that closed down indoor dining, bars, museums and other types of businesses, the CDC still recommends avoiding bars and restaurants, whether you're vaccinated or not. In fact, the agency found that areas that reopened either indoor or outdoor dining saw an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

For now, the blanket advice of wearing a mask in public still applies to all people, both vaccinated and not. Eating indoors, either with socially distanced tables or without, is still considered a high-risk activity, especially if you aren't vaccinated. You must remove your mask to eat and drink, which increases the risk that you'll contract the virus or spread it to others. So in general, it's safer to not eat out. The CDC recommends that you wear your mask at all times in a restaurant or bar, except when you are actively eating or drinking.

However, it's up to you to use your best judgment when deciding to dine at restaurants, based on your own personal risk factors and risk tolerance.

Can I go to weddings, concerts, funerals or other gatherings?

Restrictions on certain types of events and gatherings vary from state to state, county to county, but in general, the CDC urges everyone to avoid medium-size and large crowds of people, whether they are vaccinated or not.

Any event that gathers multiple households together increases your chances of getting the virus, so the fewer people you gather with, the lower your risk. This is especially true in small spaces and environments with poor ventilation, like movie theaters, hair salons and some workplaces.

What to do if you aren't fully vaccinated

Until you receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should continue to wear a mask around other people outside your household, practice social distancing and get tested and quarantine if you are exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus. 

These are the same guidelines that have been in place for nearly a year now, but as more people get vaccinated, they will start to loosen.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.