The CDC Dropped New Guidelines For Gathering in Groups — Here's What It Means For You

The CDC released a new set of COVID-19 guidelines on April 27 for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, including mask recommendations for gathering outside, adding on to the guidelines it released in March. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people are defined as people who have been vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for two weeks. And under the new guidelines, those fully vaccinated people can:

  • Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting family members who all live together) without masks, as long as none of those people or anyone they live with is at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Underlying conditions that put you at high risk include serious heart conditions, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease.
  • Dine outside in a small group with people outside of their household without a mask on.
  • Attend a small outdoor gathering, including with people outside of their household, without a mask on (the CDC doesn't define what "small gathering" means.)

That's positive news for obvious reasons. It means that, as The New York Times pointed out, fully vaccinated grandparents or parents can safely visit unvaccinated, healthy children or grandchildren (as long as the children and grandchildren are of one household) without having to wear masks or social distance. It's a big step toward reuniting friends and family, but before we go any further, we should point out that the new guidelines do come with some caveats. Fully vaccinated people and unvaccinated people should still wear adhere to COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing a mask and staying six feet apart, when:

  • They gather with unvaccinated people from more than one household.
  • They're in public.
  • They visit with an unvaccinated person who's at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with someone at increased risk.
  • If you've been fully vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask for crowded outdoor gatherings and venues, such as sporting events.

The CDC also recommended avoiding "medium or large-sized gatherings" and travel, even if you're fully vaccinated, although it doesn't define how many people that actually is.

Why Did the CDC Change Guidance on Group Gatherings?

Experts still haven't definitively proven that vaccinated people can't be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, which is one reason they're still recommended to continue wearing masks and social distancing in public. However, the CDC noted that "a growing body of evidence suggests that full vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others." Investigation is ongoing, the agency said.

So why lift some of the restrictions on social gatherings now? Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC, said in a statement to the Associated Press that he hoped the new guidance would provide "momentum for everyone to get vaccinated when they can," while giving states "the patience to follow the public health roadmap needed to reopen their economies and communities safely."

Can I Gather in Groups Under the CDC's New Guidelines?

If you're fully vaccinated, this guidance means you can spend time indoors with unvaccinated people, as long as they're from a single household and not at high risk of severe COVID-19. If you're unvaccinated and not at high risk of severe COVID-19, same thing: you can gather with fully vaccinated people, as long as you're not including other unvaccinated people not in your household. Regardless of your vaccination status, you should still avoid medium or large groups and any unnecessary travel.

Data and new evidence might cause these guidelines to be changed, and as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky MD, MPH, said, this is not "our final destination." But with more Americans getting vaccinated, "a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves," she explained. It's great news, and even more of a reason to continue taking all the CDC's recommended precautions (wearing a face mask, social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and getting the vaccine when it's your turn) to keep us moving in the right direction.

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.