CDC Green Lights Vaccinated Folks

Great news---with a rather huge caveat.

After months of slow-walking guideline changes, loosening them far after scientific evidence pointed that risk of contracting COVID in a given situation was quite low, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surprised most observers yesterday afternoon by saying that fully vaccinated people should feel free to pursue virtually all activities, indoors or out, without masking or social distancing.

The risk chart has been updated accordingly:

If you’ve been fully vaccinated:

  • You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.
  • You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
  • If you travel in the United States, you do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
  • You need to pay close attention to the situation at your international destination before traveling outside the United States.
    • You do NOT need to get tested before leaving the United States unless your destination requires it.
    • You still need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding an international flight to the United States.
    • You should still get tested 3-5 days after international travel.
    • You do NOT need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States.
  • If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.
    • However, if you live or work in a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.

The remaining restrictions are minor, indeed:

  • You will still need to follow guidance at your workplace and local businesses.
  • If you travel, you should still take steps to protect yourself and others. You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in the United States are still required to get tested within 3 days of their flight (or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months) and should still get tested 3-5 days after their trip.
  • You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others.
  • People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss their activities. They may need to keep taking all precautions to prevent COVID-19.

As David Leonhardt notes, it’s about time:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finally catching up to the science.

For months, research about Covid-19 has pointed to two encouraging patterns. First, the underlying virus that causes Covid rarely spreads outdoors. Second — and even more important — fully vaccinated people are at virtually no risk of serious disease and only a minuscule risk of spreading the virus to others.

But the C.D.C., which has long been a cautious agency, has been unwilling to highlight these facts. It has instead focused on tiny risks — risks that are smaller than those from, say, taking a car trip. The C.D.C.’s intricate list of recommended Covid behavior has baffled many Americans and frightened others, making the guidance less helpful than it might have been.

Yesterday, the agency effectively acknowledged it had fallen behind the scientific evidence: Even though that evidence has not changed in months, the C.D.C. overhauled its guidelines. It said fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks in most settings, including crowded indoor gatherings.

The change sends a message: Vaccination means the end of the Covid crisis, for individuals and ultimately for society.

If you’re vaccinated, you can safely get together with family and friends, mask-free. You can nuzzle your grandparents or your grandchildren. You can eat in restaurants, go to the movies and attend religious services. You can travel. If you’re vaccinated, Covid joins a long list of small risks that we have long accepted without upending our lives, like riding in a car, taking a swim or exposing ourselves to the common cold.

I’ve been arguing for quite a while now that this was overdue and that the hyper-cautious tone was not only confusing but, more importantly, failing to incentivize vaccination. But I’ve also been arguing for vaccine passports or some other easy way for the vaccinated to prove that they are in fact vaccinated. That hasn’t happened yet, aside from New York state and some other localities.

The obvious question, then, is: What about the children?

Right now, my wife and I are fully vaccinated and the three over-16s in the house have had their first shot and should get their second within the week. So, by the end of May, all of them well be “fully vaccinated” as well. My 12-year-old should be able to get her first dose any day now. But, right now, my 9-year-old is ineligible for vaccination.

Unless stores, restaurants, and whatnot are going to check to see who’s fully vaccinated—and they’re not—this effectively makes things worse for the kids. Now, I can take them places knowing everyone will be masked. But, now, everyone is going to be maskless, vaccinated or not. Aside from the immuno-compromised, who are at high risk and can’t get the vaccine, adults who are unvaccinated are mostly people who simply choose not to do so. And now they’ll have permission to go around infecting those who can’t get vaccinated.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott says:

    You may have already gotten this email but:

    Fully vaccinated DoD Personnel (who are at least two weeks beyond the final dose) are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors at DoD facilities.

  2. JKB says:


  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s all about the death rate. Regardless of the CDC, once the death rate started to drop, mask compliance was going to drop. But it’ll drop a bit faster now, and in a couple weeks it will be negligible.

  4. Jen says:

    As I noted in today’s open thread, this is a nightmare for anyone in retail, or those who determine policy for municipal buildings.

    Vaccine “passports” have flopped out of the gate, and we’re unable to ask people if they’ve been vaccinated. So, we’re just going to have to…trust people? The same people who have been moaning for 12+ months that this is all fake? Wonderful.

    I’m genuinely happy that people who are vaccinated have been determined to be safe in many settings. I am also genuinely dismayed that we’ve decided that the honor system is good public policy for a pandemic.

  5. Kathy says:

    Pfizer is conducting trials on children 6 months to 12 years of age.

    The bad news is that this age group probably won’t be eligible until early next year.

    Vaccine trials on children are common. How else did we determine the schedules for childhood vaccinations? Besides, we already know the mRNA vaccines are safe.

  6. Jen says:

    @JKB: I corrected you before on this. It is correct that the vaccinated can still become infected, but there IS evidence that they are FAR LESS LIKELY to transmit. Several studies have shown that even a single dose of a two-dose vaccine regimen has reduced the likelihood of *household transmission*–you can’t get any higher risk than living in the same household.

    The vaccinated are not at significant risk from the non-vaccinated, but the vulnerable non-vaccinated are at risk of serious COVID from the vaccinated.

    The vulnerable non-vaccinated are at much higher risk when around other non-vaccinated.

    But you know this.

  7. Kathy says:


    One rational method would be to provide and require free antibody testing prior to entrance. No one will be refused entry, except those who refuse the test. If they test positive, meaning they’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID*, they can come in without a mask. If they test negative, they have to mask up.

    Those who test positive can be given a card for future entry without a test.

    Of course that won’t work, because we live in an era of whim and not of reason.

    *It could also mean they are fighting off COVID, but the odds of that are small.

    And yes, I know antibody tests aren’t the most reliable.

  8. Gustopher says:


    The vaccinated are not at significant risk from the non-vaccinated, but the vulnerable non-vaccinated are at risk of serious COVID from the vaccinated.

    Well, if you really believe this you should get vaccinated and encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated.

    (The data shows that there is a much, much less chance of any infection in the vaccinated, but there are new variants coming out, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the early breakthrough variants acted that way)

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    The 10 states with lowest vaccination rates:

    42. South Carolina
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 1,591,804
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 30.92

    43. Idaho
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 538,266
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 30.12

    44. Wyoming
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 173,312
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 29.95

    45. Louisiana
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 1,356,658
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 29.18

    46. Georgia
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 3,037,554
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 28.61

    47. Tennessee
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 1,953,189
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 28.6

    48. Utah
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 916,716
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 28.59

    49. Arkansas
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 859,154
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 28.47

    50. Alabama
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 1,314,534
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 26.81

    51. Mississippi
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 759,328
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 25.51

    Every one is a deep red state. Must prove fealty to cult leader! Lie for Trump, and die for Trump!

    And now the 10 states with the highest vaccination rates. Can anyone guess their political affiliation? Anyone?

    1. Maine
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 635,150
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 47.25

    2. Connecticut
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 1,656,431
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 46.46

    3. Vermont
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 279,619
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 44.81

    4. Massachusetts
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 3,087,288
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 44.79

    5. Rhode Island
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 460,011
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 43.42

    6. New Mexico
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 902,795
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 43.06

    7. New Jersey
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 3,796,892
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 42.75

    8. Hawaii
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 592,676
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 41.86

    9. New York
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 8,011,020
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 41.18

    10. Maryland
    Number of people fully vaccinated: 2,466,731
    Percentage of population fully vaccinated: 40.8

  10. CSK says:

    I think any unvaccinated person who refuses to wear a mask would also refuse a free antibody test.

  11. gVOR08 says:


    The same people who have been moaning for 12+ months that this is all fake? Wonderful.

    The same people who’ve been willing to pay for a counterfeit card that says they got a vaccine they can get free.

  12. Jen says:

    @Kathy: Most public libraries and indeed many small businesses don’t have the money to fund antibody testing to anyone who enters.

    @JKB: Here.

    Kelley: Well, from what we’ve seen so far, these vaccines are just as fantastic as we hoped they would be from the clinical trials with respect to the reduction in transmissions.

    There have been several real-world studies, in the U.S., in Israel, in the U.K., that really show a profound reduction in asymptomatic infection and carriage after vaccination, particularly with the mRNA vaccines.

    We don’t have as much data yet with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but it also does look to significantly reduce transmission. So, I would say you can confidently go back to most activities. We still do want to be mindful in crowded spaces, in spaces with poor ventilation indoors.

    We still want to be mindful of the very small possibility of transmissibility. But, in general, if you’re vaccinated, if your friends and family are vaccinated, life should look pretty much normal outside of crowded settings.

    More at the link.

    We’re still pretty far below where we need to be as far as adult and teen vaccination rates go. This of course varies by region; New England is looking pretty good. Other areas, not so much.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: I’ve seen the memo and sent it to our Deputy, who oversees our COVID policies. Thus far, we haven’t gotten the All Clear at the office but it’s been just a few hours.

  14. Gustopher says:

    This seems premature.

    My state is fighting off its fourth wave or so, and everyone desperately wants to throw their hands up the the air, give up, and go back to normal. The Governor is kicking the can down the road on closing up the state, hoping that increased vaccination will beat the virus surge without needing to close down parts of the state more. Giving up on masks now seems bad.

    Maybe it’s fine and this is some terrible messaging.

    I would be a lot more comfortable if the CDC issues guidelines based on local infection rates — it feels like a better, more scientifically sound message since we have varying levels of infection.

    But, perhaps they are using data from areas that have crushed a wave with vaccines, and are projecting forward to the areas that currently have problems and it is mostly fine. Shitty messaging if that’s the case.

  15. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I saw an article the other day that LA County is close to herd immunity. I immediately became curious and looked up the 2020 electoral numbers, and I found that the county gave 71% of the vote to Joe Biden. It occurred to me that there’s probably a direct correlation between vaccination rates in a particular area and how much it voted for Biden. I bet this pattern will become even clearer over time.

  16. Kathy says:


    That problem can be solved with more money, which I do know and comprehend is very hard to obtain. But at least we know there is a solution.

    The real problem is the Covidiots will decline tests, masks, and restrictions, which we can infer because it’s what they’ve been doing for the whole pandemic. And that problem we don’t know how to solve.

    I wonder whether it’s time to outlaw stupidity.

  17. Kathy says:

    There are about 25 people in my department. Of these, 5 have recovered from COVID, one is fully vaccinated (Pfizer), two (including me) have received the first dose of Pfizer, and one of those who recovered also has a first dose of AstraZeneca.

    That’s not much full or partial immunity and reduced transmission, even after we get our second dose in a couple of weeks (if then).

    My risk assessment is that I’ll probably be safe enough 2 weeks after the second dose to do away with the mask at the office, both as regards contracting or spreading COVID. But also that I’ll be safer, in both respects, if I continue wearing a mask.

    Granted the increase in safety is minuscule, but so is the effort required. Guess I missed out on the razor-wire masks everyone else seems to be forced to wear.

  18. Joe says:

    If the message really is that vaccinated people are safe even from unvaccinated people, I think we are truly approaching a “personal choice” issue, though I really haven’t thought through the kids issue that James raises. Not to be a bitch toward Jen, but people in service industries should be (or get) vaccinated. The message as I understand it is that then they don’t need to care whether their customers are vaccinated.

  19. Mikey says:


    I am also genuinely dismayed that we’ve decided that the honor system is good public policy for a pandemic.

    Especially here in the land of “fuck you, buddy, I got mine.”

  20. Jen says:

    @Joe: Well, to be more detailed about the library example specifically, here are the issues:

    – Staff are older, and from what I understand, they are vaccinated. But, we can’t ask, and to my understanding we cannot require it.
    – Libraries serve the community at large, but the biggest two groups are young children (not eligible for vaccination) and the elderly (vaccinated, but we need to keep in mind breakthrough cases are a thing).
    – People spend time in libraries–this isn’t in to grab a quart of milk.

    Add all of this together and we’re in a bit of a bind. We tell everyone “masks not required” and the more cautious will yell at staff for being too lenient. We tell everyone “masks required” and staff get yelled at for being too restrictive.

    It has less to do with the staff being vaccinated than the *staff getting yelled at.* THAT is the problem.

  21. Blue Galangal says:

    @Joe: @Jen: “We understand your concern. We share it. To that end, our staff are all vaccinated. We hope that our customers will get the vaccine as soon as it is available. We are not concerned that we might contract COVID-19 or that we are a risk to pass it on. I hope you can find the same comfort when you are vaccinated. In the meantime, please feel free to continue wearing a mask.”

    I think they’re lifting the mask mandate because those of us who have followed the rules all along, and who are fully vaccinated, well, the CDC is saying, “You know what? You’ve done your part and you’re now at extremely low risk of either catching COVID or dying from it if you do. If those maskholes don’t want to mask up or get vaccinated, that’s on them now, not on you.”

  22. CSK says:

    I’m happy to flash my vax card from Massachusetts General Hospital, but take a look at this, from a Trumpkin:

    “Trump’s biggest mistake was trusting Fauci and crew. Probably the only people who got over on him in his entire life. He needs to back off his support of the vaccine!”

    These people will never comply as long as they believe the vaccine is a plot to sterilize them or turn them into robots.

  23. Kathy says:

    Some data on breakthrough infections in the US (about one third down the page).

    This is from April 26th. Of 95 million fully vaccinated, 9,245 breakthrough cases have been reported. But see the percentage of people aged over 60.

  24. Kathy says:


    I hear the third booster dose will have 7G* and upgraded 3-D graphics!

    *In typical MS fashion, they’ll skip one number version, unless they decide to name it VistaG.

  25. Scott says:


    as long as they believe the vaccine is a plot to sterilize them

    If only.

  26. CSK says:


    Seriously, no one can convince these people that any of the Covid vaccines don’t alter your DNA.

  27. Scott says:

    Just got back from Costco (in San Antonio). No change in mask wearing. Didn’t hear one complaint from anyone. People seem to be taking it in stride, I was glad to see.

    Not sure I would see that same behavior at Walmart.

    BTW, the one sign that everything is back to normal is when Costco starts handing out free samples again.

  28. Kathy says:


    Would it do any good to point out everyone’s DNA is altered often?

    Come, there are about 30 trillion cells, each with its own DNA in the nucleus*. Every day we are exposed to electromagnetic radiation in varying frequencies, cosmic rays, chemical pollutants, background radioactivity, food (which contains some radioactive atoms, including C-14, which may even form part of DNA), water, etc. we accumulate lots of mutations throughout life, most completely insignificant. And there’s methylation, too.

    And then there’s the mitochondrial DNA, also present in every cell.

    These people probably think there’s one, single DNA for the whole body, rather than trillions of copies of the zygote’s original load.

    *Red blood cells don’t have a nucleus, and thus don’t have DNA. This is balanced out by muscles cells, which have multiple nuclei, therefore multiple copies of DNA.

  29. CSK says:

    No, it wouldn’t do any good. They think RNA is the exact same thing as DNA. And don’t try to tell them differently.

  30. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah, good point. My county is not yet ready to say “we can move to reopening phase 3 again” after 4 false starts and we’re a pretty deep red county for Western Washington. Additionally, the attendance database for the school I’m at today tells me that I have 3 Covid-19 absences per class for each period of the day. Fun stuff.

  31. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Ooooo-kaaayyyy. We outlaw stupidity and then what? Fine stupid people? Put them in jail? Execute them? In much the same way that laws don’t cause people to become moral or good, they won’t cause people to become smarter either. And no, I don’t know what the solution is either. (Actually, I do, but it’s unworkable among a species where each individual is culturally and naturally endowed with agency.)

  32. just nutha says:

    @Scott: No Costco here, but 2 Walmarts, small population relative to SA and 68% Trump support in 2020 (down from 72 in ’16). People are masking at Walmarts here just fine. In fact, I hardly ever see any maskless people at all. It might be something about people living in Dixie (or is Texas only Dixie adjacent?), but I don’t see any particular evidence that my fellow citizens are any less inclined to be racist or whatever.

  33. Kathy says:

    @just nutha:

    Ooooo-kaaayyyy. We outlaw stupidity and then what?

    Oh, that one’s easy: Dystopia.

  34. Kathy says:


    They think RNA is the exact same thing as DNA.

    Well, it’s like the next best thing to DNA. That’s why today, we think*, it survives only as an adjunct to DNA (as in mRNA) in cellular processes, and in retroviruses.

    For a time, it was thought that retroviruses (those with RNA instead of DNA) could not possibly infect DNA lifeforms. That was way wrong.

    *There is some speculation that life with coding RNA might exist, right here on Earth, but none has been so identified. Outwardly a bacterium with RNA in its nucleus would look like one with DNA.

  35. CSK says:

    Oh, swell. Some places are now barring the vaccinated from entry because the the vaccinated are “shedding spike proteins,” causing reproductive problems for women.

    This is what happens when you get your news from Instagram.

  36. CSK says:

    I know. But that’s far too complicated for them to grasp.

  37. Michael Cain says:


    It has less to do with the staff being vaccinated than the *staff getting yelled at.* THAT is the problem.

    Had lunch out today for the first time in what seems like forever. Officially, we’re still operating under the county health department’s rules until the end of the day Sunday. I sat inside. There was a sign as you entered that said, “Please wear a mask unless seated.” That’s stretching the rules slightly, but is a lot easier to understand than the actual rules. Tables were spaced six feet apart. Everyone I saw took their masks off at the table, put the masks on whenever they got up. Staff was masked at all times. No one yelled at anyone, everyone just followed the rules w/o complaining.

  38. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: Once people understand a marginal tax rate, I think we can move on to DNA vs RNA.

    It’s science fiction to most people. We’re all freaks here.

  39. Jen says:

    @Michael Cain: That’s wonderful, truly. And, it reflects most of what I’ve seen when I’ve been out.

    That said, anecdotes can vary dramatically. A neighbor just told me that her husband witnessed two men, one masked, one not, absolutely screaming at one another outside the grocery store.

    And that’s the thing–you never really know when or where things will escalate. Most of the “altercations” I’ve seen and heard about locally amount to snide comments, nothing more.

  40. Kathy says:


    I wonder if they know how much DNA they consume every day. Of many kinds: plant, animal, bacterial. In many ways: cooked, raw, living.

    As it turns out, not very much.

    But it happens every day, several times a day.

  41. Kingdaddy says:

    S’funny. A few days ago, I wrote a Yelp review of a local supermarket (not the one where I normally shop) complaining that they did nothing to enforce the masking and social distancing rules that they were saying were super important (“We’re all in this together!”) in the PSAs playing on a loop over the loudspeaker. Plus, someone replied to my Yelp review to tell me that masks don’t work. Don’t know if she shops there or not.

    Now, with the new CDC guidelines…

  42. Kathy says:

    Speaking of vaccines, let’s not forget SARS and MERS. They’re both coronavirus diseases which have caused outbreaks and killed people in the past.

    Compared to COVID, they are not very contagious. IN total, both outbreaks in 2004 and 2013 had fewer than 100,000 cases. But compared to COVID, they are far deadlier, with a mortality rate over 10%.

    Given how fast and effective the COVID mRNA vaccines are, shouldn’t someone develop vaccines for these other two viruses? Sure, there’s been no outbreak of either in years, but they are still around.

  43. Michael Cain says:


    Also all the hemorrhagic fevers. That’s what terrifies me — some variant that’s highly contagious, slow to show symptoms, then 80% fatal. Endemic in animal populations.