The state said vaccinated people should continue wearing masks and socially distance in public.By Ross Guidotti

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Pennsylvania has eased its mask mandate to allow people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to gather with other vaccinated people without masks or social distancing, state health officials said Monday.

The new rules also apply to vaccinated people gathering with people from a single household who have not been vaccinated but who are considered at low risk of severe disease from the coronavirus — such as vaccinated grandparents visiting with healthy grandchildren.

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Vaccinated people also no longer have to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as they do not develop symptoms, state health officials said.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam revised the state’s existing masking order to align with recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Anytime behavioral changes are aligned with the CDC, individual state governments and even the county, it makes it easier for people to follow,” said UPMC’s Dr. Donald Yealy.

The state said vaccinated people should continue wearing masks and socially distance in public, and when visiting with people in multiple households or with those who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

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All other aspects of the state’s current masking order remain in force.

Kaydee O’Brian, who says she’s immunocompromised, says the new guidelines are good, but how do you know if the person was really vaccinated?

“I wear it all the time, even if the other person has the shots. Yes, I’m cautious about it,” says O’Brian.

Dr. Yealy says if we’re not careful, the light at the end of the tunnel may be the headlight of yet another COVID-19 surge.

“If we’re not careful, we’ll begin to see an increase in cases again and an increase in people that need hospitalization and who might even go to on to have died from COVID-19,” he says.

Pennsylvania sharpened its mask mandate in November in response to a surge in coronavirus cases. The state required masks indoors wherever people from different households are gathered, including in private homes, though officials relied on voluntary compliance rather than on enforcement.

Pennsylvania had seen sharp decreases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths after a winter peak, but cases have been rising again — from about 2,500 a day two weeks ago to 2,900 a day as of this weekend. The decline in hospitalizations has stalled, state officials said.

The state is approaching 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and nearly 24,800 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

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