You're fully vaccinated. When can you drop the mask?

Face coverings remain one of the last standing safety protocols required in North Carolina as the state continues to ramp up vaccinations in the fight against COVID-19, but in what scenario is it truly safe for you to drop the mask?

Dr. Betsey Tilson, State Health Dir., said it's all about risk assessment.

"If you have fully vaccinated people who are in a private setting then yea- it is- I don't want to say safe, there's no bright line between safe and unsafe, but the risk is much, much lower if you only have fully vaccinated people," she said.

North Carolina follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on COVID-19 safety measures.

According to the CDC, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after either a second dose of a two-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine.

On its website, the CDC outlines a list of what you "can" and "shouldn't" do once you've been fully vaccinated.

For instance, the CDC advises you can visit inside a private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people of any age, but you shouldn't do that with people who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

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The CDC also advises fully vaccinated people can gather in a private setting, without a mask, with one other household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness.

However, the CDC warns that you shouldn't attend medium or large gatherings, even if fully vaccinated.

"I think it's crystal clear that to be around a group of people that are fully vaccinated," said Ghadier Mansour of Raleigh. "But I think there's just been too many but ifs, but ifs, but ifs."

Mansour is fully vaccinated, but waiting for the rest of her family to get their shot before traveling to visit her father in Florida who is fully vaccinated, but high risk.

Tilson said the state doesn't make formal recommendations for people who are at high risk for severe illness, so each person should decide their own comfort level.
"It's all about risk and if that person who has a high risk of complications or they're just really nervous- it's fine; you can still wear a mask," she said.

In the clinical trials for each of the three available vaccines in the U.S., patients were asked to continue wearing their face covering after getting their shot.

Tilson said, even still, the data show it was the vaccine and not the mask that protected those who got the real thing.

"In those clinical trials, they had vaccinated people and people that didn't get the vaccine," she said. "Now, you would assume that on average they were having that same amount of mask wearing and the enormously divergent effectiveness of the vaccine amongst the vaccinated and unvaccinated people tell me it was the vaccine that made the difference, not so much their behavior."
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