CDC Eases Outdoor Mask Guidelines for Fully Vaccinated Americans

While life isn’t quite back to normal yet, the CDC says inoculated people can now unmask for small outdoor gatherings.

Visitors, some wearing masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, walk along the River Walk in San Antonio last year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden celebrated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s relaxing of rules for outdoor mask wearing in a speech Tuesday afternoon from the North Lawn of the White House.

“Going to a picnic, as along as you’re vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without a mask,” he said of the CDC’s new standards. “If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things more safely both outdoors and indoors.”

The new guidelines say people who are vaccinated can congregate outdoors with other people in small groups without a mask, even with people who haven’t gotten a shot yet. Concerns remain for heavily attended outdoor events like sporting events and concerts, where social distancing is hard and the number of unvaccinated people is unknown.

Biden spoke shortly after White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC leadership held a Zoom meeting for members of the press to emphasize the risk of Covid-19 transmission outdoors and without masks, especially among those who are vaccinated, is incredibly low.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky went a step further and suggested fully vaccinated people can return to many of their favorite indoor activities as well. 

“As we gather more and more data on the efficacy of vaccines, we know masked, fully vaccinated people can go to religious services, go to a bar and participate in indoor exercise classes,” she said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the more steps we can take towards spending time with people we love.” 

As for states that still have public mask mandates in place, Walensky stressed “we no longer feel that the vaccinated people require masks outdoors” and instead pushed for consistency. 

“A lot of that is the inability to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated,” she said. “And to say that in those settings, when you have those at that density, we really do worry about protecting the unvaccinated people.”

Biden also touted new vaccination numbers in his speech Tuesday. According to the president, nearly 141 million Americans over 18 have had at least one dose with almost 40% of U.S. adults fully vaccinated. 

He stressed the only way to get the nation back on track is to get shots in arms.

“While we still have a long way to go in this fight to get us to July 4th. We’ve made stunning process because of the American people,” Biden said, referencing his Independence Day target for returning to a state of relative normalcy.

Fauci also spoke to the efficacy of the different vaccines in relation to the coronavirus variants around the world. 

The strain known as B117, the most prominent variant in the U.S., was show to be weak to the vaccines available to Americans, which is good news as it’s been detected in more and more unvaccinated young people as of late.

The South African variant is not only dominant here but also in other parts of the world. According to Fauci, the Johnson & Johnson jab is only 64% effective and the AstraZeneca shot is “not so good.” But even the lower efficacy J&J vaccine had no deaths or hospitalization following its use in South Africa. 

Pfizer’s vaccine, according to a small study, was found to be 100% effective against the B117 strain but Fauci noted the size of the study wasn’t a great determinate quite yet. 

“While efficacy went down for moderate disease, serious disease went down [as well],” he added about the mRNA shot’s successes in clinic trial. 

The vaccine showed a 50% effective rate against Brazil’s P1 variant after a single dose, and those numbers stayed the same following a second dose. Another study in Chile found 67% effectiveness against P1.

The two U.S. variants, one from California and the other from New York, were found to be stunted by the vaccines as well. Fauci said in-vitro testing, which pits the virus against antibodies made by the vaccines in a test tube, showed the two-dose shots provide a cushion to help keep the worst symptoms from the respiratory disease at bay. 

As international news focuses on India’s struggle with a new wave of infections, Fauci said its Indian-made jab Covaxin “neutralizes” a local variant known as B1.617.

“Despite difficulties in India, the vaccine could be an important antidote,” he said.   

Biden said Tuesday that he’d communicated with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We’re sending immediately a whole series of help that he needs,” he said.

As the CDC eases rules for mask wearing, a collection of congressional Republican doctors who released a PSA encouraging their base to get the shot. They include Senators Roger Marshall of Kansas and John Boozman of Arkansas and Congressmen Greg Murphy of North Carolina and Georgia’s Buddy Carter.

“Operation Warp Speed brought us safe and effective vaccines in record time, and it resulted in a clear path to eradicating the pandemic,” the lawmakers said in the video, using a moniker given to the early days of the vaccine program under former President Donald Trump.

They pushed back on the idea that the vaccines were “rushed,” saying they are the product of the former president “cutting red tape” and getting “the job done in record time.” 

“The only way to protect our loved ones and end the government’s restrictions on our freedoms is to get vaccinated,” they added. 

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