COVID Vaccinated Only Need Masks in Crowded Indoor Situations, Can Forgo Them Outside, CDC Says

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 will need to wear masks only in crowded indoor situations and are able to forgo them while outside, even in crowds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday, confirming earlier Associated Press reporting.

People who have received the vaccine can stop wearing masks indoors as long as the area is not crowded like public spaces such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. The new guidance announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, will help make way for easing restrictions in place for workplaces and schools. It ends the social distancing requirement for those vaccinated.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," Walensky said at a White House briefing.

Two weeks ago, the CDC still recommended that those fully vaccinated keep face masks on inside and in large crowds outdoors. The new announcement follows pressure faced by Biden and the CDC to ease COVID-19 restrictions on vaccinated citizens.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Person Wearing Face Mask Outdoors in NYC
A person wears a face mask outside the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on May 12, 2021, in New York City. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced pandemic restrictions will be lifted on May 19. The CDC will announce Thursday that those vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to forgo masks outside. Noam Galai/Getty Images

"I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it. And that's a big motivation to get the unvaccinated to want to get vaccinated," Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox told President Joe Biden during a virtual meeting Tuesday with some bipartisan governors that included discussing vaccinations.

Biden responded: "Good point, we're going to be moving on that in the next little bit."

Thursday's announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose—in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.

Walensky said the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated—and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

The new guidance comes as the aggressive U.S. vaccination campaign begins to pay off. U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

To date about 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.

During the virtual meeting Tuesday, Biden appeared to acknowledge that his administration had to do more to model the benefits of vaccination.

The easing guidance could open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not.

Walensky said the evidence from the U.S. and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies, and that so far they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.

The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop—and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who's not yet vaccinated to sign up.

And while some people still get COVID-19 despite vaccination, Walensky said that's rare and cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter and harder to spread to others. If someone who's vaccinated does develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately re-mask and get tested, she said.

There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That's because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

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