People vaccinated against the coronavirus in the U.S. can now gather in small groups indoors without restrictions a U.S. health agency said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the announcement on Monday. The CDC said that small vaccinated groups could gather indoors without face coverings. It also advised that vaccinated people can meet with healthy people from a single home who are unvaccinated and at low risk for severe problems related to the virus. The guidance means that grandparents who have been vaccinated can meet with their healthy, unvaccinated grandchildren.
Many vaccinated adults had been asking whether it is safe for vaccinated older people to meet with unvaccinated family members. The CDC answered that question with its recommendation.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the CDC director. She spoke with reporters on Monday and said "we are starting to turn a corner." She added that her agency's guidance was a "first step" toward a return to normal life.
Walensky said more guidelines will follow as there are fewer U.S. cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19. However, she also said that people who have been vaccinated need to continue to wear face coverings in public and to avoid large gatherings. The CDC did not give advice to people who have been sick and recovered from the virus and who have a level of resistance to it.
The agency said a person qualifies as fully vaccinated two weeks after the final shot. About nine percent of the U.S. population – about 31 million people – have been vaccinated so far.
Health experts were encouraged by the agency's announcement. They said the news should make more people interested in being vaccinated.
Dr. Richard Besser is a former acting director of the CDC. He called the announcement "welcome news." He said that it should add momentum to the vaccination campaign.
Some other experts, however, were looking for a less cautious position. The CDC, for example, warned vaccinated Americans against unnecessary travel.
Dr. Ali Khan, who used to work for the CDC and is currently the leader of the University of Nebraska's College of Public Health, said more travel should be permitted.
"They need to relax travel for those vaccinated," he said. Khan added that the CDC should develop guidelines for electronic documents that prove people have been vaccinated.
Dr. Leana Wen is a professor at George Washington University. She said this guidance should have come out sooner, possibly in January, when the first group of Americans was vaccinated.
She said the CDC advice from Monday was "too cautious."
In an email to the Associated Press, Wen said the CDC has a chance to "influence state and national policy" by making guidelines that permit people who have been vaccinated to do more.
Even with the criticism, many people were pleased by the news.
Ruth Michienzi is a 91-year-old grandmother in Massachusetts. She had just received her second vaccine shot. She said she was happy to see her great-grandchildren without wearing a face covering for the first time in a year.
"I hope they remember me," she said.
Grace McShane is 61. She also received her second injection of the vaccine on Monday. She is happy to give her grandchildren a hug and a "cuddle."
But she said she supports being careful.
"Even if you're vaccinated, it's better to be safe than sorry. This is the new normal. This is part of life and you just have to adapt to it."
I'm Dan Friedell.