Nearly 99 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in the US, covering more than 19.2% of the population. Since mid-December, more than 64 million people have been given at least one dose. Among them, nearly 34 million people have gotten the complete two-shot regimen, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those figures are impressive, but they’re not enough for the country to reach herd immunity. Public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have often said that a huge percentage of the population will have to be vaccinated for the US to return to normal.
An increasing number of studies in recent weeks have shown that the current vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 complications and death. Brand new research has also indicated that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can significantly reduce asymptomatic infections in real-world conditions. The drug might effectively stop the spread, in addition to preventing severe illness. Despite that progress though, health officials are still advising against the lifting of COVID-19 safety measures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already updated its COVID-19 guidelines with new information for fully vaccinated people, explaining the kind of scenarios where people can gather with others without wearing masks. The agency is still advising people not to travel even if they’re fully vaccinated. Moreover, the CDC says that everyone still needs to wear face masks in public settings. But it looks like another guideline update is coming soon to cover additional activities that could be safe for fully vaccinated people, according to Dr. Fauci.
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The number of daily new COVID-19 cases has dropped dramatically since early January, but it is currently plateauing between 60,000 and 70,000 cases per day. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained that the agency was still evaluating risks a few days ago, which is why the previous guideline update was delayed. “These are complex issues, and the science is rapidly evolving,” Walensky said. “CDC is working to ensure that the communications we release on this guidance are clear. We are making sure, and taking the time, to get this right.”
She warned at the time that the coronavirus figures are “still too high” and that they “have now plateaued for more than a week at levels we saw during the late summer surge.” Walensky cautioned people against relaxing precautions. Several states have lifted mask-mandates in recent days though, and some states even allow full-capacity dining in restaurants.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC’s updated guidelines say people can meet indoors without face masks in limited groups. Face masks and social distancing are still required in public settings or when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household. Vaccinated people can still be infected since vaccines do not offer 100% efficacy. The guidelines say people who suspect an infection should seek a PCR test, contact their doctors, and isolate themselves from others.
The CDC still says that travel can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission, which is why the recent guidelines update advises people to avoid travel and stay home at this time.
Fauci addressed the guidelines on Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, revealing that a series of updates will follow. The next one is due in a few days. The new documentation will define additional best practices for Americans who have received one or two vaccine doses.
Dr. Fauci: More in a series of installments of CDC guidance for already-vaccinated people coming "very soon." pic.twitter.com/jldAKugtfE
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) March 12, 2021
The new announcements “will address travel, they will address workplaces, they will address houses of worship,” the health expert said. “You’re gonna see that coming out pretty quickly.”
Fauci did not offer explicit scenarios where the new guidelines will apply, but his remarks are in line with President Biden’s comments on Thursday. “In the coming weeks, we will issue further guidance on what you can and cannot do once fully vaccinated to lessen the confusion, to keep people safe, and encourage more people to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”
Both Biden and Fauci have warned that lifting restrictions before enough people are vaccinated is dangerous, as the number of cases can rise again quickly. Biden also said that the administration is looking to open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1st.
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