The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to release guidance this week on safe activities for people who have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine amid growing questions about when, and how, shots will enable a return to normal life.
The recommendations will mark the first time the federal government has signaled to Americans that they can start taking steps back to the old rhythms of work, school and play, according to two senior administration officials involved in the drafting of the guidelines.
The CDC guidance, which could be released as early as Thursday, will include recommendations that Americans limit their social interactions to small gatherings in the home with other fully vaccinated individuals, wear masks in public and adhere to other public-health measures such as social distancing for the foreseeable future.
But the agency’s advice is likely to disappoint many who hoped the increasing pace of inoculations would allow some common restrictions to be relaxed immediately for vaccinated people.
The document will include a series of scenarios for Americans to consider, including where they socialize, with whom they can socialize with and what to consider when making plans. It will also include a section on travel.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, as well as CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky previewed the guidance at a press conference with reporters Monday. Fauci said while the guidelines were still being finalized, “doubly vaccinated” Americans could gather within the home safely.
“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk — the relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home.”
Over the last several weeks the CDC director has warned Americans in public press appearances that the emergence of new variants and increased transmission could threaten the progress the country has made over the last month with decreased hospitalizations, cases and deaths. On Monday, Walensky again urged caution.
“I want to really keep our eye on the fact that … cases are increasing right now, slightly. The goal is not to sort of open up travel, open up all things because … we’re scaling up vaccination. The goal in those first 100 days has always been to sort of make sure that we are in a place to be out of this pandemic,” Walensky said. “At 70,000 cases per day, we’re not in that place right now.”
The new CDC guidelines come two weeks after the agency released its recommendations for school reopenings. Since then, the agency has faced criticism from school unions that the guidelines did not go far enough in ensuring teachers receive vaccinations before reopening. Republicans, on the other hand, say the CDC recommendations put too many restrictions on schools and that they limit their ability to open quickly.
The vaccination guidelines could provoke a similar debate. With more than 76 million doses administered and infection rates decreasing, states across the country are considering advancing reopening plans. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday that restaurants in the state will no longer have to adhere to capacity restrictions. Several states, including Montana and Iowa, have lifted their mask mandates.
But Walensky has been adamant that the country continue to adhere to strict public health guidelines and only move to widen reopening when community transmission rates fall. The CDC’s new guidelines will reflect that sentiment, officials said.
Fauci, too, says he does not want to move too quickly toward reopening, pointing to the summer surge and the move by some states to open restaurants and bars.
“That’s a big lesson. In my mind, what occurred back last early summer, when we said, ‘okay, let’s try and open up the country and open up the economy’, and we gave gateway guidelines … there were two things about that that were problematic,” Fauci told POLITICO.
“The first was that the baseline level of daily infections at that time was really quite high. So you were starting off in a precarious situation," he said. "The second problematic thing is that many of the states did not adhere to the reopening guidelines. The reason I go back to that story is that as we get the level of cases to be very low … and get more and more people vaccinated you’re going to have to gradually pull back in a very measured way. You can’t make it like a light switch.”
The Biden administration has in recent weeks ramped up its vaccine distribution efforts, promising states additional increases in doses shipped over the coming months. Health officials expect vaccine supply to expand significantly with the authorization last weekend of Johnson &Johnson’s vaccine. The company is expanding manufacturing capacity through a new partnership with Merck, which President Biden will speak to Tuesday afternoon.