Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear face masks or practice social distancing indoors — regardless of gathering size or setting, federal public health officials announced Thursday in the most significant relaxation of coronavirus precautions since the pandemic hit.
The new guidelines, rolled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pave the way for businesses, schools, restaurants, venues and other establishments to fully reopen their doors without any public health restrictions for the first time since February 2020 after one of the darkest years in U.S. history.
Mask usage also isn’t necessary in outdoor settings for fully vaccinated individuals, according to the updated CDC recommendations.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said the major rollback is possible because of a steady uptick in vaccinations, combined with plummeting COVID-19 infection and death rates.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky told reporters on a conference call. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Why today? The science hasn’t changed.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) May 13, 2021
The only scenarios where masks and social distancing will still be required for fully vaccinated individuals are certain indoor settings like public transit, airplanes and hospitals, according to the CDC guidelines, though Walensky suggested relaxations may be forthcoming in some of those areas as well.
Immunocompromised individuals should consult with their doctors before ditching their masks, Walensky noted.
The CDC considers an individual to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after receiving their final shot.
The latest CDC update comes just two weeks after the agency revised its guidance to say fully vaccinated individuals could ditch their masks in outdoor settings while still keeping them on inside.
Leading up to Thursday’s announcement, the CDC faced pressure to also relax its indoor guidance, with some public health experts questioning the necessity of the distinction.
Walensky said the relaxation on indoor masks was only motivated by science and noted that this week’s authorization to administer the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to children age 12 to 15 played a role.
“The science demonstrates that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected,” she said.
President Biden was expected to deliver remarks at the White House on the new mask recommendations Thursday afternoon.
The new guidelines come as the Biden administration is on track to meet its goal of administering at least one coronavirus vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults by July 4.
As of Thursday, nearly 59% of the adult population had received at least one shot and the COVID-19 death rate was at its lowest point since April 2020.
The pandemic progress is being made in spite of the fact that the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. has slowed down significantly in the past few weeks amid persistent hesitancy among certain demographics, including registered Republicans.
Walensky stressed on the conference call that un-vaccinated individuals still need to wear masks and practice social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings.
“You remain at risk of mild or severe illness, of death, or spreading the disease to others,” she said. “You should still mask, and you should get vaccinated right away.”
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