So You’re Vaccinated — Here’s What You Can Safely Do Now (And What You Can’t)

updated Mar 12, 2021
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After nearly a year of living through the coronavirus pandemic, one question is undoubtedly on everyone’s minds: When can we get back to “normal?” And while the answer to that might be more complicated than anyone would like, there is good news on the horizon: vaccine distribution is happening, and some of the previous guidances meant to slow the spread of the virus are being updated accordingly. 

Since the United States began rolling out the vaccine in December 2020, there have been, as of this writing, more than 96 million doses administered, with over 2.1 million doses being given a day. And with the recent approval of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, President Joe Biden predicts that the U.S. could have enough supply to vaccinate the entire U.S. population as early as May. (How that will impact the rollout, and speed with which people receive their doses, is yet to be determined.)

With that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a set of updated guidelines for fully vaccinated people, detailing which activities are safe — and what precautions are still necessary amid the ongoing pandemic. Some background: People are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But, as Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, the associate director of infection control and assistant professor of infectious diseases and critical care medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center, tells Apartment Therapy, “vaccination does not guarantee that you can’t get an asymptomatic or mild case of COVID-19.”

That’s why it’s important for even fully vaccinated people to continue to follow health and safety best practices — like mask-wearing, social distancing in public, and diligent hand-washing — in order to help keep yourself and others around you healthy. “Hand hygiene was incredibly important prior to COVID-19 as it is integral to prevent the spread of innumerable infections,” Dr. Cawcutt notes. “Continuing to practice this protects you from infections other than COVID and continues to decrease the risk of getting COVID-19 that you could inadvertently spread to others.”

As health officials learn more about the effectiveness of the vaccines, it’s likely that their guidelines will change — and hopefully widen. Until then, here’s what you need to know about getting the vaccine, hanging out with friends, and yes, finally hugging your loved ones again.

Credit: Minette Hand

Can I host a dinner party?

If you and your guests are all fully vaccinated, the CDC defines gathering indoors without masks or distancing as a low-risk activity. The CDC also says it’s safe to have mask-free gatherings indoors with unvaccinated members from one other household who are considered low-risk — unless they (or anyone they live with) are at risk for severe COVID-19 complications. 

However, if you’re fully vaccinated and you want to invite unvaccinated people from multiple households, the CDC suggests continuing to wear masks, practicing social distancing, and remaining outdoors if possible. Cawcutt agrees, emphasizing, “We must be careful to not get others who may be at higher risk or not yet vaccinated ill.”

Can I dine inside a restaurant, or should I still order takeout and delivery? 

Some states are opening up indoor dining, and it’s understandable that some people might be itching to get back to their favorite restaurant for date night or after-work drinks. But just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should: The CDC advises that while fully vaccinated people are at less risk for contracting COVID-19 during social activities in public settings, precautions still must be taken if you plan to visit a restaurant. That means masking up, avoiding crowded areas or venues with poor ventilation, sitting outside if possible, maintaining social distancing, and practicing hand-washing.

Bottom line: Whether or not you’re fully vaccinated, you still owe it to the people around you to be safe and smart. There’s no way of knowing if your fellow patrons or the restaurant staff are fully vaccinated yet, so if you can, order takeout or delivery — and remember to tip well.

Can my children hug their grandparents? 

Finally, yes — if the grandparents are fully vaccinated! The CDC’s guidelines suggest that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household, so long as the unvaccinated people are not at high-risk for COVID-19 complications and not displaying symptoms of any kind. As the CDC explained in a statement, “This guidance represents a first step toward returning to everyday activities. For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter and her healthy children without wearing masks or physical distancing, provided none of the unvaccinated family members are at risk of severe COVID-19.”

Can I travel? 

Unfortunately, no; that vacation will still have to wait. The CDC is not currently updating their travel guidelines, which advises all people (regardless of vaccine status) to avoid travel, which increases one’s chances of contracting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. If you must travel, mask-wearing is required on all forms of public transportation and inside airports and train stations. Cawcutt emphasizes the importance of mask-wearing on public transit, noting that others around you might not be vaccinated. “Although it may be reasonably safe for the vaccinated person, unmasked use of public transit — especially in poorly ventilated areas or without social distancing and lack of adequate hand hygiene — could place others on transit at risk,” she says.

Some public health officials have pushed back against the lack of update for travel guidelines, arguing that fully vaccinated people should be able to travel more freely. However, the CDC noted that new variants of the coronavirus have spread into the U.S. as a result of travel, and there’s still a need for precaution — but that could change in the future. “[The agency] may update its travel recommendations for fully vaccinated people as more people are vaccinated and we learn more about how vaccines work in the real world,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald told CNN. “This is something we will be closely watching in the United States.”

Can I go to a concert? 

Nope, sorry. The CDC urges all people, regardless of vaccination status, to continue to follow the health guidelines surrounding medium or large crowds, which directs that such gatherings should be avoided altogether — especially if social distancing cannot be practiced. “With the majority of the population not yet vaccinated, larger gatherings result in higher likelihood of unvaccinated people being present, getting exposed and ill themselves,” Cawcutt adds. “It also allows for higher rates of transmission amongst a crowd compared to smaller, controlled groups.”

Can I burn all my masks ceremoniously? 

No! While mask-free visits between fully vaccinated people or between fully vaccinated people and unvaccinated, low-risk people from a single household have been determined safe by the CDC, you’ll still need to wear your mask when venturing in public, or if you visit friends from multiple households. What’s more, we very well may be in it for the long haul when it comes to mask-wearing life (Dr. Fauci suggested we could still be wearing face coverings in 2022), so make sure you stock up on some cute ones, vaccinated or not.

The continued prevalence of masks doesn’t mean you should lose heart or be discouraged. The majority of communities are not yet vaccinated, but, as Cawcutt points out, we are getting closer to where we want to be. “If everyone continues to do their part while we work to get more people vaccinated, we will keep people healthy and continue to save lives.”