Fully vaccinated assisted living residents can resume group activities and communal dining without masking or observing social distancing restrictions, according to new guidance released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC updated its guidance for healthcare settings — including assisted living communities, long-term care acute care facilities, nursing homes and home healthcare settings — in response to growing vaccination rates. 

If unvaccinated residents are participating in group activities or communal dining, then masking is recommended for everyone; however, only unvaccinated individuals should continue to social distance from all others. If vaccination status cannot be determined, then the CDC continues to recommend that all participants continue to follow physical distancing and masking recommendations. 

The guidance recommends educating residents about the potential risks of public settings for social activities taking place outside of communities, including visits to family homes, and encouraging residents to continue masking, physical distancing and practicing hand hygiene. 

Fully vaccinated healthcare workers should continue to wear masks at work, but they can dine and socialize together in break rooms and participate in in-person meetings without masking or physical distancing, the agency said. If unvaccinated workers are present in those situations, however, then it’s recommended that everyone wear a mask, and unvaccinated workers should continue to physically distance from others.

A spokesperson for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living said the new guidance reinforces the importance of vaccination “so we can get back to doing the things we enjoy.” 

“This is critical to improve residents’ quality of life and also will encourage others to get vaccinated,” the AHCA / NCAL spokesperson said. “We hope that states will follow suit to reflect this new guidance in assisted living requirements, if they haven’t already, so that providers have consistent guidance from the government.”

AHCA / NCAL and LeadingAge launched a #GetVaccinated campaign to try to achieve a previously announced goal of vaccinating 75% of nursing homes by June 30. Although there are no systems in place to monitor progress of vaccine uptake in assisted living communities, NCAL has said that it is encouraging such communities to meet this goal as well.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda said the CDC news was welcome for residents and families awaiting “meaningful engagement” with each other.

“Both visitation and dining are core socialization activities at our communities. Lifting restrictions for those fully vaccinated will continue to support social enrichment for residents and families,” he said. “We are thankful that resident vaccination rates across the industry are exceedingly high and that a sense of normalcy is returning.”

LeadingAge called for eased restrictions last week in a letter to the CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The association said that as vaccination rates increase and governments are relaxing restrictions on businesses, “this must also occur in long-term care communities.”

“Older adults in long-term care communities should have the same rights to choose how to live their lives as those in the broader community,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan wrote.

Testing for coronavirus remains largely unchanged in healthcare settings. Fully vaccinated workers, however, may be exempt from expanded coronavirus screenings.