CDC Releases New Mask Guidelines—Here's When and Where You Can Go Without One
President Biden celebrated the relaxed restrictions, urging people to get vaccinated so they can get together "with friends, going to the park for a picnic without needing a mask."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its mask-wearing guidance and confirmed that fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a large group of strangers. And in some cases, those who aren't yet vaccinated can also go out without a face covering.
The release of the updated guidance on Tuesday is another step toward "normal" following a year of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick," the CDC wrote in their updated guidelines. "Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House, President Biden commented on the new guidelines soon after they were released, "urging people to get inoculated not just to protect themselves and those around them, but so they can live more normally, by 'getting together with friends, going to the park for a picnic without needing a mask,'" the Washington Post reported.
The guidelines state that fully vaccinated people—i.e. those who've had their second dose in a 2-dose series (the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine) or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two weeks ago—don't need to don a face covering at outdoor restaurants or outdoor gatherings that include unvaccinated people. Those who are not yet fully vaccinated should keep wearing a face mask in those situations.
But the CDC has also relaxed the outdoor restrictions for people who haven't been fully vaccinated. They don't have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike, or run alone or with members of their immediate household, and they can also go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people. These guidelines apply to people who have been fully vaccinated as well.
Everyone should still wear masks at crowded outdoor events, including concerts, rallies, and athletic events, says the CDC. The CDC also continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as restaurants, hair salons, shopping centers, movie theaters, and museums.
Fully vaccinated people are allowed to gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or social distancing (staying six feet apart). And if you've had all your required shots, you can also gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household without masks or social distancing—unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
However, large indoor gatherings should still be avoided by everyone, vaccinated or not, and restrictions apply during travel. Even if you've been fully vaccinated, you will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the US, and in US transportation hubs, like airports and stations.
"We're still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19," the CDC stated in the new guidelines. "After you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in indoor public places until we know more."
Carol Winner, MPH, public health expert and founder of social distancing brand Give Space, says it makes good sense to have separate COVID-19 public health recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated and those who haven't yet had their COVID vaccine.
"Although post-vaccination individuals are not 100% fully protected, the vaccine efficiency is anywhere from 70-95% depending on the vaccine received, and with that comes certain freedoms to move about safely," Winner explains. "The vaccine protects the health of the individual and of the public by minimizing exposure of the virus to others, it reduces infection rates, and also cripples the virus' ability to replicate and mutate, which prevents the continued presence of COVID-19 variants."
At the same time, it's important for all Americans to adhere to all public health measures recommended by the CDC, Winner says. "The first thing they teach in public health is that one cannot contribute to the health of the public if they are not healthy," she says. "As a public health professional having worked for decades with NIH and CDC on federal initiatives, Americans can rest assured that the Biden administration is overseeing the continued assessment and evaluation of COVID-19 environmental exposure and infection rates before relaxing federal public health guidance, including recommendations on wearing masks outdoors."
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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