Editor’s note: Dr. William Miller, chief of staff at the Adventist Health Mendocino Coast Hospital, is writing weekly reports concerning the COVID-19 situation on the Mendocino Coast. We are pleased to be running his health column, with details on the medical fight against the pandemic. The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of The Mendocino Voice or of Adventist Health.
On Monday, March 8th, the CDC announced new recommendations for fully vaccinated persons. These recommendations loosen some of the restrictions for mask wearing, physical distancing and indoor visiting if a person is fully vaccinated against COVID. This is an exciting first step towards helping the country return towards normalcy. Here is what you should know.
First, the definition of “fully vaccinated” means that a person is two weeks or more out from receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or is two weeks or more out from receiving the single dose of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.
Second, these recommendations have not yet been adopted by the California Department of Public Health or our own county health department as there has not been enough time for them to review and incorporate them as of this writing. However, it is reasonable to expect that they will be broadly adopted. Also, these recommendations do not apply to healthcare settings or the workplace, at least not yet.
Third, the scientific evidence is very strong that all three vaccines provide substantial protection against developing both mild and severe COVID, the illness caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Further, this protection also substantially reduces the risk of transmission of the virus if a vaccinated person develops infection regardless of whether they develop symptoms or not.
Fourth, it is recognized that vaccines and other prevention strategies minimize risk, but that there is no strategy that gives a 100% guarantee, short of having no contact with others what-so-ever. In light of that, the low risks involved in these recommendations are balanced against the risks of maintaining the current restrictions which include individual and societal costs related to impact on personal relationships with loved ones and family, psychological effects, impositions created by physical distancing, impact on jobs due to quarantine, school and business closures, and restriction of other important social activities.
So here is what you can safely do if you are fully vaccinated:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing,
- Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing,
- Not have to quarantine or get testing following a known exposure as long as you remain without symptoms (this part will be subject to adoption by the county health officer).
Here is what you should continue to do regardless of vaccination:
- Wear a mask and physically distance when in public places,
- Wear a mask, wash hands and physically distance when visiting with unvaccinated people who may be at high risk from severe COVID. The main high-risk factors include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and age over 65.
- Wear a mask and physically distance when visiting with small groups of unvaccinated people who are from different households.
- Avoid medium and large sized in-person gatherings, such as sporting events, concerts, festivals, conferences, parades, or weddings.
- Still get COVID tested if you develop COVID symptoms.
- Follow the specific requirements of your employer and of the county and state health departments.
As the number of people who are vaccinated increases and the amount of new COVID cases decreases, we can expect further relaxation of guidelines. In California, part of this is dictated by the California Department of Public Health’s county tier system which is based on case rates and testing rates, under which currently restricted businesses and other social activities can resume. We should expect that increased vaccination rates will mean eventually opening up such things as nursing homes and hospitals to visitation. I think that the CDC is to be commended for balancing the need for public health protections while at the same time listening to the call to return to “normalcy” as soon as possible. Hopefully, the state health department will do the same.
The specific recommendations from the CDC can be found at this link.
And the science supporting these recommendations is discussed at this link.
Please, check out next week’s column of the Miller Report in which I will discuss why Mendocino County is still stuck in the purple tier.