As evidence mounts that vaccines are effective at blunting transmission of the coronavirus , the Centers for Disease Control released long-awaited new guidance for those fully vaccinated on Thursday, saying they can ditch a mask in most scenarios.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House press briefing Thursday. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a face mask or stay six feet away from others in most settings, whether outdoors or indoors, the CDC said. The agency carved out exceptions for hospitals and crowded indoor spaces, such as planes, trains, and mass transit. Walensky also warned that people who are immunocompromised should speak with their doctors before shedding their masks.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine. According to CDC data, more than 35 percent of the U.S. population is fully immunized against the virus.
The update comes as the agency came under fire for being too slow to react to changing science. In justifying the move, Walensky pointed to three recent studies that showed COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing mild and severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths in real-world settings. (One study in Israel showed the Pfizer vaccine was 97 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections among the fully vaccinated.)
The agency had relaxed some of its rules for fully vaccinated people in April, but still advised wearing masks indoors in most public settings, and in many outdoor places — leading to confusion for most and hot-running debates about whether people needed to wear masks outside to begin with.
Walensky cautioned that “the past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable, so if things get worse, there is always a chance we may need to make a change to these recommendations.”