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CDC: Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Ditch Masks, Social Distancing in Most Settings

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 5/13/2021 Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder
a group of people on a beach: A group of men in town for a bachelor's party sit on the beach Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in San Diego. Many in the group had already been vaccinated. U.S. health officials say fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. And unvaccinated people can drop face coverings in some cases, too. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) © (Gregory Bull/AP) A group of men in town for a bachelor's party sit on the beach Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in San Diego. Many in the group had already been vaccinated. U.S. health officials say fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. And unvaccinated people can drop face coverings in some cases, too. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased mask guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, allowing them to go maskless indoors and outdoors in most settings.

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

According to the guidance, fully vaccinated people "can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance." Walensky said that masks are still required on forms of public transportation and airplanes regardless of vaccination status. Masks should also be worn in correctional facilities and homeless shelters, the guidance said.

Those who are immune compromised should speak to their doctors before ditching the mask, Walensky added.

The sudden announcement of the new guidance marks a drastic change from previous CDC advice. Just over two weeks ago, the agency touted relaxing guidelines to reflect that fully vaccinated people can safely attend small gatherings outdoors without wearing masks.


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Walensky cited declining coronavirus cases, increasing vaccine supply and emerging data on the performance of vaccines as reasons for this week's guidance change.

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It comes as the agency has faced pushback from critics who have said the CDC's guidance has been too complicated and too slow in response to changing data. Public health experts have pushed the agency to lessen restrictions as a way to show the benefits of vaccination.

When asked about people choosing to continue to wear masks even when they are fully vaccinated, Walensky said that "people have to make these decisions based on their own comfort."

Over 35% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The agency considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot.

Unvaccinated Americans should still wear their masks and practice social distancing, according to Walensky.

"The science is also very clear about unvaccinated people," she said. "You remain at risk of mild or severe illness, of death or of spreading the disease to others. You should still mask, and you should get vaccinated right away."

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