Fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks outdoors and in most indoor settings to protect against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday in a move that surprised health experts and officials while delighting some mask-weary Americans and confusing many.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced at a White House media briefing on COVID-19. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Pennsylvania health officials immediately updated their guidance to align with the CDC’s, while New Jersey officials said they were reviewing the new advice.
“Today’s guidance from the CDC affects only people who are fully vaccinated,” said Pennsylvania acting Health Secretary Alison Beam. “This is another incentive to get the vaccine that is now easily and conveniently available. Once 70% of Pennsylvanians over 18 are fully vaccinated, we can completely lift the masking order.”
Dr. Stephen Gluckman, with Penn Medicine, says the rapidly declining number of COVID-19 cases means the risk of being infected has been greatly reduced. He says the vaccine has been effective against the variants of COVID-19.
“Surprised but positive surprise, I mean it just sort of came out of the blue, it’s great, it’s time,” Dr. Gluckman said. “I think it means we’re heading in the right direction. I think it’s gonna still take a little while before we can say it’s over.”
Walensky, at the CDC, said there are exceptions to the new advice. People with weak immune systems should speak with their doctors before putting their masks aside because vaccines might not be as effective for them. And the CDC will continue to recommend masks for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in certain crowded indoor settings, such as buses, planes, and hospitals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidance on masks Thursday for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
But outside of very packed environments, Walensky said, the vaccines have proven to be highly effective at preventing both infection and serious illness from COVID-19, including against mutated versions of the virus that are more transmissible. She also cited a recent Israeli study that found, in the rare cases of infection after vaccination, the viral load is low, the infection is brief, and the infected person likely poses less risk of spreading the virus.
The new guidance comes as the aggressive U.S. vaccination campaign begins to pay off. New COVID-19 cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since April 2020, and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.