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Mask or No Mask? Guidance for Life After Vaccination

With SMH Infectious Disease Specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD

Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new activity guidelines and updated safety recommendations for people who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine

“This is long overdue," said infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, who leads Sarasota Memorial's Infection Prevention and Control Department. "I think the guidelines are very rational. They're very science-based — a little bit conservative, but maybe you have to start conservatively. 

“The guidelines' main takeaway is that people who are vaccinated are going to have some privileges,” he said.

Benefits of Getting Vaccinated

Are You Fully Vaccinated?

The CDC considers people to be fully vaccinated 2 weeks after recieving their final COVID-19 vaccine injection — whether that's Shot #2 of a 2-dose vaccine, like Pfizer or Moderna, or the one and only shot of a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson-Janssen.

If it has been less than 2 weeks since your shot or if you still need to get your second dose, you are NOT fully protected and should continue taking all COVID-19 safety precautions until you are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC’s updated guidance, if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (at least 2 weeks after your final COVID-19 vaccine injection):

  • You can safely get together with other vaccinated people — indoors or outdoors — without face masks and without needing to physical distance.

  • When socializing with people who are NOT vaccinated, consider how at-risk they are for developing severe illness from COVID-19. If they're low risk, you can visit indoors without a mask and without social distancing; but if somebody is high risk, then you still need to take the usual precautions (mask-wearing + social distancing) to protect those who are unvaccinated, and it's probably better to get together outdoors, Dr. Gordillo said.

  • In public places, everyone should continue with all proven COVID-19 prevention strategies, including wearing well-fitted face masks and social distancing.

"For those of us who are vaccinated, the goal is not to protect ourselves. We are already protected by the vaccine," Dr. Gordillo said. "If we get COVID-19, the worst that is going to happen is that we're going to get a cold that'll last for a few days and we may have to stay home for 10 days. But the person that comes to your house who had a liver transplant 3 months ago, that person could get sick and die.

Stay Safe

The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to take these COVID-19 precautions to protect themselves and others when in public or around unvaccinated people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19:

  • Wear a well-fitted mask and physical distance (6 feet) from those you do not live with.
  • Avoid medium and large in-person gatherings.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Follow guidance issued by your employer, as well as CDC and health department travel recommendations.

Click here for CDC resources for vaccinated people.

"So that's what the CDC is saying: You have to be assessing the risk of who's coming together in a gathering."

The CDC's relaxing of activity guidelines for vaccinated people apply only to household or private get-togethers, not public large gatherings like weddings, concerts, or other community events.

Dr. Gordillo added that the CDC's new guidelines are somewhat conservative given the effectiveness of the vaccines. "In my opinion, small- to medium-sized gatherings outdoors should be safe for vaccinated people, especially if the majority of those attending are vaccinated and there are no severely immunocompromised people there," he explained.

What's Next?

The CDC has reported that its recommendations will be updated as more people are vaccinated in the U.S., as COVID-19 transmission rates change and as more scientific evidence becomes available.

According to Dr. Gordillo, with the vaccines that are now available, we can make COVID-19 just another respiratory virus, so we can resume our normal lives. "I don't think this virus is ever going to go away," he said, "but its spread will be tamed by our vaccine-enhanced immune systems, and it will look more like the flu than a scary coronavirus."

"These vaccines are going to change the face of the pandemic. An this really is our hope."
 

** The above content and video were published March 10, 2021. For the most up to date information on COVID-19, please also visit smh.com/COVID19 as well as the CDC’s website.

 

Written by SMH Digital Communications Specialist Ann Key, who manages the health system's Healthe-Matters blog and newsletter, as well as its social media and other wellness content channels. Have a health question or a wellness topic you'd like a local expert to weigh in on? Email it to askanexpert@smh.com.
 

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Posted: Mar 10, 2021,
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Author: Ann Key
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