The CDC reports that more than 205 million people in the US are fully vaccinated, and over 66 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster. While vaccination rates have risen, so have the number of breakthrough infections. (Remember: Breakthrough cases are when a fully vaxxed person gets COVID.) What’s driving the increase? The Delta and Omicron variants.
Omicron has officially become the most dominant strain in the US. It’s more transmissible than Delta, and doesn’t appear to discriminate on vaccination status. Omicron has already driven daily coronavirus case counts higher than at the peak of Delta (Think: mid-September). But vaccinated Americans are experiencing mild symptoms. As more information rolls in about Omicron, the CDC recommended new guidelines for the fully vaxxed.
Here’s what’s new:
On Dec. 27, the CDC shortened quarantine guidelines for all Americans — regardless of vaccination status. Now anyone who contracts COVID-19 is only required to isolate for five days. After that — if your symptoms have resolved or you’re asymptomatic — you’re good to go. But you must continue wearing a mask around others for five more days.
Those same rules apply for exposure to COVID, but only for unvaccinated people or those who aren’t boosted. Quarantine isn’t necessary if you are boosted, but you should wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. For anyone exposed, it’s best to get tested five days after exposure.
Over the summer, after the Delta variant became the US’s dominant strain, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people (aka it’s been two weeks since your second Pfizer of Moderna shot, or single dose of the J&J vaccine) should wear a mask indoors and in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission. Here’s a map to determine if your county is considered high risk. More than 85% of all US counties have a high transmission status. And about 8% are considered substantially contagious.
Keep in mind: Unvaccinated people are about six times more likely to test positive than vaccinated. They’re also nine times more likely to be hospitalized — and 14 times more likely to die from COVID-related complications, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Takeaway: Vaccinations are still the key to getting the rate of infections down across the country. And they do work in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
Here are the guidelines that have stayed the same:
You can still resume activities you have previously done before the pandemic.
But you must continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines at your workplace and local businesses.
People who are immunocompromised or have weakened immune systems should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people — unless their health care provider advises differently.
Masks are still required on buses, trains, planes, and public transportation — and also in indoor transport hubs like airports and stations. But travelers are not required to wear their masks in outdoor settings like open decks on ferries or uncovered bus tops.
What about travel?
In early April, the CDC updated its travel guidelines, saying fully vaccinated people can travel within the US at low risk to themselves. And don’t need to be tested or quarantined afterward as long as they take precautions while traveling. Think: wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, washing their hands.
On Dec. 6, the agency issued new guidance on inbound international travel to the US. All air passengers, whether vaccinated or not, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before their flight. Outbound travelers should check their destination’s specific COVID-19 rules.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends delaying all travel until you are vaccinated. But if you are planning to get away, here are some guidelines to stay safe. We also explain how the variants can impact your future travel plans here.
Here are some resources to help with your vaccine journey…
There’s a lot of info out there about the COVID-19 vaccines. And it can be confusing to figure out where to begin (we've got some tips for that here). So to make your search a little easier, here are some websites and tools to help you get the info you need.
Plan Your Vaccine. This website helps you plan your vaccination visit. You can find out about eligibility, as well as vaccination sites near you. Info is available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.
VaccineFinder. This tool helps you find clinics, pharmacies, and other locations that administer vaccines. You can filter it by the type of vaccine and how close or far away sites are. Heads up: info may be limited for some states as more providers update locations.
FAQs on COVID-19 vaccination. You might have some more Qs about the vaccine, including the side effects and the costs. Here are your answers, courtesy of the CDC.
What to know about the top COVID-19 vaccines. We Skimm’d how vaccines get developed and approved, and what you need to know about the top COVID-19 vaccines (aka Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and more).
Myths vs facts on the vaccines. There’s been false info spreading about them, like that they can alter your DNA or impact fertility. Experts from Johns Hopkins are setting the record straight, “MythBusters” style.
Best practices for posting about your vaccine on social media. The Better Business Bureau’s tip? Don’t share your vaccine card on social media. Here’s why and what to post instead.
When the pandemic began almost two years ago, the idea of having a COVID-19 vaccine at our disposal within months felt like a pipe dream. Now we’re facing new challenges (read: variants and breakthrough infections). But we have to keep up the fight against the virus as the country aims to get closer to herd immunity, and not let our guard down, which means taking the precautions necessary to stop the spread.
Updated on Dec. 28 with the latest travel guidelines, statistics, and quarantine recommendations.
Updated on Aug. 4 to include the latest numbers on vaccination rates and county transmission statuses.
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