WASHINGTON (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places.
The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities large or small without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC and Prevention said Thursday. “You can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
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The guidelines will not supersede the rules for places “where (masks remain) required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” meaning it will be up to state and local leaders to revise their mandates in accordance with the CDC’s recommendations, if they choose.
In San Diego Thursday, officials said they’re keeping a close eye on the California Department of Public Health for any changes to state mandates.
“As more people are vaccinated and case counts decrease, it is natural for some of the regulations to loosen, but that is not a green light to be reckless,” San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said. “Situational awareness is important. In San Diego County, we are working with the state and assessing if the CDC guidance will change our posture on masking.”
Walensky says if individuals are immune compromised they must consult with their physician before removing masks in public places.
“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” she said.
Walensky announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, saying the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated — and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.
About 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.
Just two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday on vaccinations with a bipartisan group of governors, President Joe Biden appeared to acknowledge that his administration had to do more to model the benefits of vaccination.
“I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, told Biden. “And that’s a big motivation get the unvaccinated to want to to get vaccinated.”
“Good point,” Biden responded. He added, “We’re going to be moving on that in the next little bit.”
The easing guidance could open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not.
Walensky said the evidence from the U.S. and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies, and that so far they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.
The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop — and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who’s not yet vaccinated to sign up.
And while some people still get COVID-19 despite vaccination, Walensky said that’s rare and cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter and harder to spread to others. If someone who’s vaccinated does develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately put their mask back on and get tested, she said.
There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.
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