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CDC Issues Guidance For People Who Received COVID-19 Vaccine

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The CDC says it's now safe for some friends and family to meet indoors without masks or social distancing. There are some important caveats to the new guidelines, but they do lift some of the long-standing public health measures that have kept people isolated during the pandemic. White House officials hope these looser restrictions will incentivize more Americans to get vaccinated. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The 9% or so of Americans who've been fully vaccinated got a green light to hug their relatives or dine indoors with their neighbors, especially if the people they're seeing have also been vaccinated. In announcing the relaxed recommendation, CDC director Rochelle Walensky pointed to growing evidence that it's safe to resume limited activities at least two weeks after the vaccine regimen is complete, even if the activities involve people who haven't been vaccinated.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Fully vaccinated people can visit with unvaccinated people from one other household, indoors, without wearing masks or physical distancing, as long as the unvaccinated people and any unvaccinated members of their household are not at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease.

NOGUCHI: In other words, a vaccinated grandparent can have dinner with their unvaccinated grandchildren, so long as those children don't have other conditions that might make them vulnerable to the virus, such as cancer or diabetes. The CDC also lightened restrictions placed on those exposed to the virus. Someone who is fully vaccinated no longer needs to be tested for the virus or quarantined for 14 days after an exposure to COVID-19, so long as they don't experience symptoms like coughing or fever themselves. Taken together, the new guidelines offer a long-awaited glimpse into how vaccination will enable normal life to resume by degrees, a year after most of the US went into lockdown. White House COVID-19 adviser Andrew Slavitt called the new recommendations a sign of hope, noting Americans are now receiving more than 2 million shots of vaccine a day.

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ANDREW SLAVITT: We think that this is part of a growing list of reasons why Americans do want to get vaccinated.

NOGUCHI: But even as it authorized greater social contact, the CDC warned that most of its measures must continue in order for new cases, hospitalizations and deaths to continue their downward trajectory. The looser guidelines, it says, apply only to smaller private gatherings. Masking and social distancing are still recommended in public, regardless whether a person has received vaccine or not. It is also not recommended that multiple households mingle indoors without masks to protect those who aren't vaccinated. And, Walensky notes, the CDC still recommends people avoid all nonessential travel, which is bad news for those with far-flung families.

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WALENSKY: We would like to give the opportunity for vaccinating grandparents to visit their children and grandchildren who are healthy and who are local. But our travel guidance currently has been unchanged.

NOGUCHI: She emphasizes that the U.S.'s COVID caseload, while falling still remains the highest in the world, and travel is a contributor.

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WALENSKY: Here's what we know. Every time that there is a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country.

NOGUCHI: Meanwhile, new strains of the virus keep emerging and spreading rapidly, adding to the uncertainty and risk of travel.

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WALENSKY: Many of our variants have emerged from international places, and we know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot.

NOGUCHI: The CDC says it will continue to update its guidelines as the dynamics of the disease in the country changes.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.