When Can I Go Out in Public Again After Being Fully Vaccinated?

Crowd wearing a face mask.

Ada daSilva / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • CDC guidelines say it’s ok to gather indoors in someone's home, unmasked with other fully vaccinated people and with unvaccinated people from one household if they are not high-risk.
  • Vaccines protect you very well from the disease and seem to prevent most transmission, but they're not perfect
  • Vaccinated people should continue wearing masks in public, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces and large gatherings.

A year ago, COVID-19 swept across the U.S., driving people away from friends and family and up-ending how we interact in public. Now, almost a fifth of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated. Though vaccines may not usher in a full return to normal for several more months, public health experts say that vaccinated people finally have greater freedom to safely interact with others. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced a new set of guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals. Full immunity kicks in about two weeks after your second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after receiving the single Johnson & Johnson dose.

After that time period, the CDC says it’s safe to gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or socially distancing. It’s also OK to gather with small groups of unvaccinated, low-risk people from one other household without a mask. This includes visiting relatives or hosting people from one household.

“They are wonderful vaccines and people should start living if they're vaccinated more than they have been,” Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Verywell.

But beyond small household gatherings, when will it be safe for vaccinated people to return to public spaces and activities?

What This Means For You

Health experts say you can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask and you can gather with unvaccinated people as long as none of those people are at increased for severe illness from COVID-19. For now, you should continue wearing a mask and taking other precautions when going out in public. Going to places like restaurants and bars can raise your risk of contracting COVID-19, even after vaccination.

Navigating Gatherings

All the approved vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death. Although scientists are still waiting for conclusive clinical trial data, preliminary real-world studies show that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce infections including asymptomatic infections by 80%.

If someone is protected against asymptomatic as well as symptomatic disease, they aren’t likely able to spread the virus to others when exposed. Plus, even if someone who is vaccinated does become infected, the amount of virus they carry will likely be low.

“I think it's important for people to get together," Gandhi says. "It's not even that I'm saying you can, I'm saying please do because the effects of loneliness are very detrimental to health."

Gathering with other vaccinated people is very safe, she says. Still, when considering gatherings with unvaccinated people, proceed with some caution. While vaccination provides a high level of protection, the possibility of transmission hasn’t been ruled out.

“The caveat is, the risk is minimal but not zero,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of the infectious diseases unit at the University of Buffalo Medical Center, tells Verywell. Until your household or social bubble gets fully vaccinated, it’s safest to really avoid any of those riskier types of activities that involve being indoors without a mask."

When planning gatherings, you may want to consider taking appropriate precautions prior to the event. For example, because it typically takes seven to 10 days for an infection to incubate, Russo says that people who are planning Easter celebrations in a household with some unvaccinated people should be rigorous about their COVID-19 safety precautions now.

Scientists aren’t yet sure how long a vaccinated person can be infectious. So, Russo recommends vaccinated people be diligent about masking and social distancing 10 days before spending time indoors or unmasked with someone who is unvaccinated.

“I think that Easter dinner is absolutely fine," Russo says. "If the grandparents have been hitting the bar scene, going out to restaurants every night, then they need to think about a little bit about the possibility that, albeit still small, they could infect their grandchildren."

Being in Public

In public, the CDC and many experts urge vaccinated people to continue following safety precautions like wearing a mask, staying six feet apart from others, and avoiding large gatherings.

“Because some of us are vaccinated and some of us are not, I think it's fair of the CDC to say when you're out public, let's keep our restrictions going,” Gandhi says.

This means continuing to mask up when you go grocery shopping, avoiding spaces that aren’t well ventilated, remaining diligent about hand washing, and leaving ample space between you and other people in public.

Your vaccination can make you feel more comfortable being in certain spaces, like bars, restaurants, and gyms. But spending time there, especially when unmasked, will increase your chances of interacting with someone who is infected. Though your odds of becoming infected and spreading the disease are low, Russo says it’s important to consider your exposure, especially when planning to interact with unvaccinated people. 

“If you decide you're going to go to restaurants all the time and go to bars all the time, that's when you have to be especially rigorous with each time you do that, even though the chances are very small, you increase that likelihood [of becoming infected],” Russo says.

If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, the CDC says you do not need to stay away from others or get tested, unless you live in a group setting like a correctional facility or group home. If you begin to experience symptoms, you should then get a test, stay home, and isolate from others.

When to Let Your Guard Down

Directives from public health officials are encouraging. But it may be a while until vaccinated people can totally let their guards down. The U.S. is still seeing 50,000 new cases a day and only about 18% of adults are fully vaccinated.

As a greater portion of the U.S. population becomes fully vaccinated, it will likely become safer to have larger gatherings and do activities like traveling and attending indoor gyms and bars. But experts are still wary of the spread of viral variants and the risk of lifting restrictions prematurely.

“I’m often asked, are we turning the corner?” Anthony Fauci, MD, the government’s top infectious disease expert said at a White House briefing. “My response is really more like we are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

  3. Tande A, Pollock B, Shah N, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on asymptomatic infection among patients undergoing pre-procedural COVID-19 molecular screeningClinical Infectious Diseases. 2021. doi:10.1093/cid/ciab229

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.