There is about to be an explosion of grandparents visiting grandchildren and getting hugs in nursing homes. New federal guidelines for fully vaccinated people and residents of nursing homes move them toward some semblance of normalcy after a year of confinement inside pandemic bubbles.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, allowing them to gather indoors.
For this week’s FAQ Friday, we answer questions about the CDC guidelines and address new guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) about nursing home visits.
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?
Being “fully vaccinated” means a person at least two weeks removed from a second shot of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines or the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
What are some of the things people who are fully vaccinated can do now?
The new CDC guidelines allow for people who are fully vaccinated to be together indoors without wearing masks.
The change in guidance also allows for the fully vaccinated to gather indoors, unmasked, with unvaccinated people from one other household. This change opens the door for grandparents to visit their unvaccinated children and grandchildren.
The CDC doesn’t suggest doing so, though, if there is a person who is considered at an increased risk for a severe COVID-19 infection living in the home.
Vaccinated people are urged to still wear masks and practice social distancing in public. They should also avoid large gatherings, the CDC says.
Why? Because there is still much to be learned about the vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. Researchers know that vaccines are effective at preventing serious illnesses and deaths. More research is needed on how well the vaccines do at limiting transmission and how well they protect against the variants that are showing up.
What do the new CDC and CMS guidelines mean for visitation restrictions at hospitals and nursing homes?
Residents of nursing homes who are fully vaccinated can receive visitors indoors. The updated visitation guidance by CMS was announced Wednesday and clears the way for the hardest hit by the pandemic to again hug loved ones.
The change comes as COVID-19 cases and deaths among nursing-home residents have plummeted in recent weeks at the same time that vaccinations accelerated. People living in long-term care facilities have borne a cruel toll from the pandemic. They represent about 1% of the U.S. population but account for 1 in 3 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
“There is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one,” CMS said in its new guidance. “Therefore, if the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting face mask and performing hand hygiene before and after.”
CMS still urges people to wear masks and use hand sanitizer, and keeping at least 6 feet distance is still the safest way to go. If a visit can take place outdoors, that is preferred, even for the fully vaccinated.
The updated CDC guidance allowing for fully vaccinated people to gather, unmasked has not affected restrictions to hospital visits for the region’s health-care systems.
In response to the pandemic, hospitals have banned most visitors with limited exceptions, an example being patients who are dying. If you plan on visiting someone in a hospital, call or check the hospital’s website before going to find out what restrictions are in place.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.