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The CDC's new mask guidance explained in 2 handy charts - one for outdoors, one for indoors

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/27/2021 hbrueck@businessinsider.com (Hilary Brueck)
Inti St. Clair/Getty Images © Inti St. Clair/Getty Images Inti St. Clair/Getty Images
  • The CDC released new guidance Tuesday on where people can go maskless outside.
  • Everyone can exercise outdoors without a mask, as long as they stick to their own household.
  • Vaccinated people should have more freedom to picnic and gather outside without masks, the CDC said.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants people to know there are clear, personal benefits to getting vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the agency released new guidelines for when fully vaccinated people - that is, those who've allowed their shot(s) two full weeks to take effect - can take off their masks.

"We all miss the things that we used to do before the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said, announcing the new guidance. "If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households, the science shows - if you're vaccinated - you can do so safely, unmasked."

The chart below, from the CDC, shows which activities the agency considers safe to do unmasked outside.

You'll note that fully vaccinated people can do almost anything outdoors without a mask, with the notable exception of attending a crowded event, like a parade, game, or concert.

table: Outdoors, fully vaccinated people should feel more free to gather in small groups and dine, the CDC said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Outdoors, fully vaccinated people should feel more free to gather in small groups and dine, the CDC said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC is loosening the reins a little bit for unvaccinated folks as well - suggesting it's OK to go outside without a mask on, as long as you're just:

  • Venturing out for some exercise with members of your own household (and not coming into close physical contact with others while you're walking, biking, or running).
  • Or, going to a small outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated friends or family.

In all other cases, the CDC still stresses that masks should be worn, especially when people are indoors.

During the briefing, Walensky reiterated that the science is clear now that the risks of catching the coronavirus are much lower outdoors, where there's near infinite ventilation, than inside.

"There's almost a 20-fold increased risk of transmission in the indoor setting," she said. "That, coupled with the fact that we now have 37% of people over the age of 18 fully vaccinated, and the fact that our case rates are now starting to come down, motivated our change in guidance."

Indoors, in public spaces, the CDC still says everyone should wear masks.

The chart below, with vaccinated people in green, and unvaccinated in yellow and red, is meant to demonstrate the relative risks of doing activities indoors during the pandemic, even with a mask on.

You'll note that singing, exercising, and eating indoors, all activities where people may potentially be emitting more infectious viral particles into the air, are considered less safe for unvaccinated people than vaccinated. The chart below has unvaccinated people on the left, and vaccinated on the right:

table, timeline: Indoors, everyone should wear a mask in public, the CDC said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Indoors, everyone should wear a mask in public, the CDC said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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