As an important step toward a return to a pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outside in large crowds and in most indoor environments.
“Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said in a Rose Garden address announcing the new guidance, an event he and his staff attended without masks. Hours earlier in the Oval Office, where Biden met with vaccinated Republican lawmakers, he led the group in removing their masks when guidance was announced.
“When you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore,” he said, summarizing the new guidelines and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated – or wear a mask until you do.”
The guidelines still call for the wearing of masks in busy indoor environments such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will pave the way for workplaces, schools and other locations to be reopened – and even the need for social distance for those fully vaccinated.
“We’ve all longed for this moment – when we can get back to a sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at a previous White House briefing.
Big news from the CDC: If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask in most environments – indoors or out.
We’ve come this far. Whether you’re getting vaccinated or wearing a mask, protect yourself until we get to the finish line. pic.twitter.com/XI4yPmhWaD
– The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 13, 2021
The CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people – those who are two weeks after their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose – in part to reap the benefits of getting the injection. emphasize. The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: the number of viruses in the US is the lowest since September, the number of deaths is at its lowest since April last year, and the rate of positivity testing is at its lowest since the beginning of April. the pandemic.
Walensky said the long-awaited change is due to the millions of people vaccinated and based on the latest science about how well those shots work.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small – without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves,” Walensky said. “When you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
The new guideline will likely open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for companies or others to distinguish between those who have been fully vaccinated and those who are not.
“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but key workers are still forced to play mask police for unvaccinated customers and refuse to follow local COVID security measures,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “Should they become the vaccination police now?”
Walensky and Biden said people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.
“We’ve come this far – please protect yourself until you get to the finish line,” said Biden, noting that most Americans under 65 have not yet been fully vaccinated. He said the government would not enforce mask-wearing guidelines on those who had not yet been fully vaccinated.
“We’re not going out to arrest people,” added Biden, who said he believes the American people want to take care of their neighbors. “If you have not been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of those who have not yet been vaccinated.”
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is not changing the rules for masks on the House floor.
“No,” Pelosi told CNN. “Have they all been vaccinated?”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “no” that she will not change the rule requiring masks on the House floor.
“No,” said Pelosi. “Have they all been vaccinated?”
– Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 13, 2021
Recent estimates have put the percentage of unvaccinated lawmakers in the House at 25%.
That lack of clarity about who is and isn’t vaccinated, led Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, to declare the CDC guidelines “confusing and contradictory.”
“The audience will not feel comfortable in a crowded indoor space if they are not sure whether or not the maskless person standing next to them has been vaccinated,” he said.
The announcement came because many states and communities have already lifted mask mandates amid improved virus numbers and because more Americans have shed face coverings after getting shot.
Dan Witte, a 67-year-old musician from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, stopped wearing a mask after receiving the vaccine two months ago and recently rejoined his band with gigs at busy bars and weddings. He was encouraged by the CDC’s new guidelines, but said it just confirmed its confidence that the vaccines provided protection against the spread of infection.
“I went from being hypervigilant for nearly a year to being in the middle of the crowd without a mask,” said Witte.
To date, more than 154 million Americans, nearly 47% of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 119 million have been fully vaccinated. The number of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the Pfizer injection approval for children ages 12 to 15 on Wednesday, another burst of doses is expected in the coming days.
“Let’s all be patient, be patient with each other,” said Biden, who acknowledged that some Americans may be reluctant to remove their masks after living in a pandemic that killed more than 584,000 people in the US for more than a year and more than 3.3 million people worldwide.
The CDC’s announcement that Americans could begin to shed one of the most visible symbols of the pandemic was in stark contrast to other countries, with much of the world still struggling to contain the virus. amid global differences in vaccinations.
Just two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all environments and outdoors in large crowds.
Walensky said evidence from the US and Israel shows that the vaccines are just as protective when used in the real world as in previous studies and that they continue to work so far, even though some troubling mutated versions of the virus are spreading.
The more people keep getting vaccinated, the faster the infections will subside – and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging anyone 12 and older who are not yet is vaccinated to apply.
And while some people still get COVID-19 despite vaccination, Walensky said that’s rare. She cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter, and more difficult to spread to others. If people who have been vaccinated develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately put their masks back on and get tested, she said.
There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people with weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk to their doctors before throwing off their masks. That’s because of ongoing uncertainty about whether the vaccines can boost a weakened immune system just as well as normal, healthy ones.
The new guidelines had an immediate effect on the White House, which has taken a cautious approach to relax virus restrictions. Employees were told masks are no longer necessary for people who have been fully vaccinated.
First Lady Jill Biden, who was traveling in West Virginia, told reporters that “we feel naked” as she and her party removed their face covers. Then she paused. “I did not mean it like that!”