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02:49 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The fastest way to get back to a safe, mask-free life is for everyone to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

But just because you’ve gotten a shot of protection doesn’t mean you should rip off your mask immediately. That could actually set you back and put your friends and family at risk.

Here’s why you should keep masking up in many cases – and when it’s safe to go mask-free:

It takes weeks for vaccines to really kick in

You’re not fully vaccinated until two weeks after your last dose of vaccine, according the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means at least two weeks have passed since your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or at least two weeks have passed since your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

So ditching your mask too soon could leave you with little or no protection against getting infected or infecting others.

Your friends and family might not be vaccinated yet

Vaccines are great at helping protect you from getting sick with Covid-19.

While there’s growing evidence suggesting vaccines can also help prevent transmission, the CDC says there’s not enough data yet to prove whether vaccinated people could still carry the virus and infect others.

So unless your friends and family are also fully vaccinated or at low risk of severe Covid-19, you might put them at risk if you see them without wearing a mask.

What can I do without wearing a mask?

The CDC says fully vaccinated people can:

• Visit other vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing

• Visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or physical distancing, if the unvaccinated people are at low risk for severe disease

• Skip quarantining and testing if you’re exposed to someone who has Covid-19 but are asymptomatic. (You should still monitor for symptoms for 14 days, though.)

But full vaccination doesn’t mean you can run wild and ditch all safety precautions. Health experts say you still need to:

• Wear a mask and keep good distance around those who are unvaccinated and at increased risk for severe Covid-19

• Wear masks and physically distance when visiting unvaccinated people who are from multiple households

• Keep physical distance in public

• Avoid medium- and large-sized crowds

• Avoid poorly ventilated public spaces

• Wash your hands frequently

• Get tested for Covid-19 if you feel sick

Wearing a mask helps businesses and schools stay open

The faster everyone wears a mask and gets vaccinated, the faster we can crush Covid-19 – and have businesses and schools safely open at full capacity, mask-free.

“People say, ‘When is it going to get back to normal and I don’t have to wear my mask anymore?’” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician.

“That’s not the right way to think about this. We want our businesses to come back. We want our churches to be open for in-person service and our schools open for in-person learning. We need masks to do that.”

Wearing a mask can also set a good example for everyone who hasn’t been fully vaccinated – especially children.

Americans will need to keep wearing masks until we reach herd immunity, Wen said.

About 70% to 85% of people must achieve immunity – either by surviving Covid-19 or receiving a vaccine – to reach herd immunity, the point at which enough people are protected against a disease that it cannot spread through the population.

If enough people get vaccinated, it’s possible we could reach herd immunity by this summer.

So health experts urge everyone to go get your vaccine once you’re able to.

“We are so close to the finish line,” Wen said. “If you just hang in there for a bit longer, we’ll put an end to this pandemic.”

CNN’s Alaa Elassar and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.