A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

If you got your shot, congrats! If you haven’t yet, well you’ve got a lot to look forward to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DC Health updated their guidance for fully vaccinated people this week. Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to update her mask order from over the summer on Friday. While fully vaccinated people shouldn’t forgo all the rules, public health experts say they can safely do a lot more than they did before they got jabbed.  

The guidance only applies to people 14 days after their second shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the first shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. You aren’t fully vaccinated until two weeks after your last dose.  

Once your body produces enough T cells and B cells and you develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19, experts say it’s safer to do a lot more activities, sometimes even maskless. Because a lot of people are not fully vaccinated yet, people should continue to take precautions. 

A bit of advice from one public health expert: “Communication is the key here,” Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center, tells NPR. “Much like prior to vaccination, we all had to talk to each other to figure out what our individual risk and activities were and what our risk tolerance was.”

All three of the vaccines are highly effective against the coronavirus, but not foolproof. People will have different comfort levels. The following information is meant to help you weigh the risks for yourself and your community. Something to keep in mind is the state of the virus in your community. In D.C., cases are going down, but there is still moderate community spread

According to DC Health, fully vaccinated people can: 

  • Participate in “casual outdoor activities” like going on a walk, run, or bike ride without needing to wear a mask. (The CDC says it’s safe for unvaccinated people to do this as well.)
  • Attend small, outdoor gatherings with family and friends without needing to wear a mask. (Unvaccinated people also do not need to wear a mask, so long as no one is at high risk of severe illness. Here is a list of medical conditions that put people at risk.)
  • Attend small, indoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people without needing to wear a mask or social distance. (If a fully vaccinated person visits an unvaccinated person who is at higher risk of severe illness everyone should wear a mask and stay six feet apart.) 

DC Health’s guidance is more conservative than the CDC’s. For example, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can safely dine outdoors at a restaurant with friends from multiple households, maskless. Meanwhile, DC Health says fully vaccinated people should continue to mask and social distance if they are in an “organized public outdoor setting.” The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, the government agency that enforces coronavirus regulations at restaurants and bars, appears to still be requiring that patrons wear masks unless they are eating or drinking.    

Both the CDC and DC Health say fully vaccinated people should continue to mask in indoor public settings. The CDC acknowledges it is safer now to get a haircut, go to an indoor movie theater, et cetera, so long as you are wearing a mask. It is less safe for unvaccinated people to be in indoor public settings, even with a mask on. DC Health is also continuing to ask fully vaccinated people to avoid crowded settings, large gatherings (be they indoors or outdoors), and indoor settings with poor ventilation. 

The challenge is so many D.C. residents are not fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, 29.2 percent of the local population in D.C. is fully vaccinated, as of April 29. Because it is hard to know who is vaccinated and who is not, lawmakers are weighing mask mandates. In Maryland, for example, Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the state’s mask mandate. County officials are wary to follow suit. 

“Currently only one out of four Baltimore residents are fully vaccinated. This means you can safely assume three out of four people you encounter in public are not yet fully vaccinated,” say Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the Baltimore City Health Department in a joint statement. “While there is a lower risk of disease transmission outdoors, that is not the same as no-risk of disease transmission. Creating policy that distinguishes between people who are vaccinated and non-vaccinated will inform our review of the current mask mandate.” Scott hopes to make an announcement regarding new mask guidance in the coming days. 

DC Health offered some general principles to keep in mind whenever you question yourself:

  • The level of precaution recommended for fully vaccinated people in any setting depends on the characteristics of any unvaccinated people in that setting. (Meaning think about the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in the people you spend time with.)    
  • Outdoor settings are safer than indoor ones.
  • No one, including fully vaccinated people, should leave their homes if they are sick, except to seek medical care.
  • Fully vaccinated people should follow the work policies of their employer, even if they are stricter for employees to follow. 

Have any questions? Let me know, by replying to this newsletter or emailing me directly. 

— Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Two of DC Health’s metrics remain in the red, at Phase 0/1 levels: Turnaround time for test results and positive cases interviewed. To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard. [EOM]
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