More shots in arms and slowed infections have finally prompted health officials to tell fully vaccinated Americans they can ditch their masks in most places indoors and outdoors, except under certain circumstances.
WASHINGTON (CN) – If you are fully vaccinated and want to stop wearing your face mask indoors and outside, now you can do so in most situations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
It marks a significant milestone for a nation that has been trapped in the pandemic’s grasp for over a year, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference alongside fellow White House Covid-19 response team members Dr. Anthony Fauci and Andy Slavitt.
It is one of the first major barriers to be removed on the path to a return to relative normalcy in America following over 580,000 Covid-19 deaths and more than 30 million infections. As of Thursday, the U.S. is averaging roughly 578 deaths per day from the respiratory disease, far lower than peak levels reported after the holidays.
But now the results are in, Walensky and Fauci said, and the science has given the White House the confidence to say that the U.S. has finally achieved a moment many have longed for.
Over 58% of adults have received at least one shot and vaccines are flowing at a rapid clip with a little more than 2 million doses being administered per day on average.
All told, over 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated so far and President Joe Biden is expected to announce soon that the U.S. has surpassed the 250 million shots mark.
According to the CDC’s new guidance, Americans who are completely vaccinated can now go into most indoor settings without a mask, like to the office.
The exceptions are few but practical given their typically heavy traffic and transient nature: Planes, trains and buses still require a mask. Hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters are also places where mask wearing and social distancing remains encouraged for all, whether they are fully vaccinated or not.
But the new easing of mask restrictions for those who have received their full vaccination regimen means more Americans can “start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” the CDC director said.
There has been a very small number of “breakthrough” infections among the fully vaccinated in the U.S. and Walensky said Thursday when that does occur, the viral load has remained lower, meaning illness is shorter and transmission rates lower.
People who are still not fully vaccinated or are immunocompromised, however, are encouraged to speak with their doctor or a medical health professional about whether it is safe for them to give up their mask.
“The science is clear, too, for unvaccinated people, you remain at risk of mild or severe illness, of death, or spreading the disease to others. You should still mask and you should get vaccinated right away,” Walensky said.
The CDC generally considers people fully vaccinated if they are two weeks out from their second dose in a two-dose series shot, like those issued by PfizerBioNTech or Moderna. The same two-week window must pass for recipients of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a person to be considered fully vaccinated.
If these requirements are not met, no matter how old or young, the CDC does not consider this to be full vaccination and says you should still wear a mask and practice social distancing.
The CDC also clarified travel guidance on its website Thursday, stating that Americans leaving the U.S. do not need to get tested before leaving the country unless their destination requires it. Americans will, however, need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from Covid-19 before an international flight back into the United States.
Walensky, Fauci and Slavitt also agreed that according to data, the current vaccines are largely capable of standing up to variants of the coronavirus. A study in Israel assessing breakthrough infections after exposure to the variant known as B.1.351 showed while the mutated strain did sneak through a vaccinated person’s beefed up immune system on a few occasions, the incidences were very low.
Even with variants however, the trick to stopping the pandemic from blossoming into a myriad of mutated strains is getting more people vaccinated, and fast. The more vaccinations there are, the less risk there is that variants will spread at all, Walensky emphasized.
Public health officials like Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner under President Donald Trump, said Thursday that the relaxing of CDC guidelines is undoubtedly a positive sign.
“This is a measure of hardships we endured, shared sacrifices we’ve made as a nation, scientific triumph achieved and [the] Biden administration’s success in distributing vaccines,” Gottlieb tweeted. “This is a good day. Let’s celebrate what we’ve done and remember those who suffered.”
Pfizer vaccine was recently approved for children 12 to 15 years old. Vaccine eligibility for even younger children remains close on the horizon with the White House pushing for a full return to school this fall and 70% of the nation vaccinated by July 4.
Fresh on the heels of the CDC’s new guidance, senators were meeting with Biden at the White House to hash out negotiations for the administration’s infrastructure plan. Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia told reporters that she and a handful of other senators inside the White House for negotiations that day took off their masks indoors, per Thursday’s updated CDC guidance.
From the Rose Garden late Thursday afternoon, the president heralded the CDC’s latest guidance as a significant moment for Americans who had already endured so much in the “lost year” of 2020.
“A few hours ago, the CDC announced they are no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people need to wear masks. This recommendation holds true whether you are inside or outside, I think it is a great milestone, a great day,” he said.
Cases are now down in 49 of 50 states, with hospitalization and death rates at their lowest levels since April of last year.
“It is going to take a little more time for everyone who wants to get vaccinated to get their shots. So all of us, let’s be patient,” Biden said.
He added, “If you see someone wearing a mask, please treat them with kindness and respect. We’ve had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much politicization over wearing masks. Let’s put it to rest. Let’s remember we’re all Americans. Let’s remember we are all in this together.”