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Centers for Disease Control unveils new mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans

"Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before"

Sara Cook, Alexander Tin, Grace Segers – CBS News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled updated guidelines on Tuesday detailing activities that vaccinated people can safely resume, including attending small outdoor gatherings without the need to wear a mask.

The new “interim public health recommendations” detail a variety of situations in which fully vaccinated individuals can forgo wearing a mask, but urged the continued use of masks in most indoor settings and in crowded outdoor settings.

“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing by Biden administration officials. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do. Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”

The new recommendations say fully vaccinated individuals can engage in the following activities without wearing masks:

  • Walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household
  • Attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends
  • Attending small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
  • Dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.

Fully vaccinated people can also attend “a crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event,” as long as they remain masked, according to a CDC infographic of the new guidelines. 

An infographic from the CDC released on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, showing various activities that fully vaccinated individuals can resume. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

“I am optimistic that people will use this information to take personal responsibility to protect themselves and protect others,” Walensky said. 

She urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks indoors for as long as there are more than 50,000 new cases per day, and said it is “safe for those who are fully vaccinated to return to the activities they love doing inside while wearing a mask.”

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. President Biden will deliver remarks on the current state of the pandemic later Tuesday.

The new guidelines suggest that fully vaccinated individuals continue wearing masks when in public spaces, when gathering indoors with unvaccinated people from more than one household, when visiting unvaccinated high-risk individuals or in an outdoor setting or venue where masks are required. The updated CDC guidance recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to avoid medium or large-sized gatherings.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, previewed the new guidance on Monday, telling a virtual event hosted by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health that “the risk of infection outside is really minimum. If you’re vaccinated, and you’re outside, it’s even less.”

Prior CDC guidance acknowledged that “masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household.” It also advised individuals to abide by any mask mandates in their local area while out in public, as well as any relevant federal mask mandates.

In the months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, researchers have repeatedly found that outdoor transmission likely makes up a small share of infections. 

The CDC in March published research detailing a successful effort by one New Jersey school to curb COVID-19 outbreaks where, among other measures, meals and sporting events were held mostly outdoors.

The agency over the weekend also urged summer camps to plan for more activities outdoors “whenever possible” as one of a handful of “key prevention strategies” in updated guidance for camp counsellors. 

Early research also suggests fully vaccinated people carry substantially less virus in their body even in cases of rare “breakthrough” infections of COVID-19, which scientists suspect means the virus is less likely to spread to others. 

One recent study published by the CDC found most fully vaccinated staff and residents in Chicago-area nursing homes who had “breakthrough” infections of COVID-19 had no symptoms, and none appeared to have spread the disease to others.

The U.S. reported having administered 230,768,454 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Monday. Thirty-seven percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

banner image via West Point on Flickr