The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Thursday allowing COVID-vaccinated people to ditch their masks indoors in many instances.
The CDC is still calling for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes and hospitals but eased restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
“This is more than welcome news,” said Dr. Cecil Bennett, a Newnan-based physician who only just got his first supply of vaccines for his patients six weeks ago. “We’ve just turned a corner, but we need to remember those hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t make it this far and celebrate their memory.”
U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.
Bennett predicts an upsurge in vaccinations and less hesitancy among those skeptical of their need or efficiency.
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 emergency authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.
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 are 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 develops COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately re-mask 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.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden’s top health adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, reiterated there is no need for fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks outdoors.
“It would be a very unusual situation if you were going into a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other,” Fauci told CBS “This Morning.” “Then you wear a mask. But any other time, if you are vaccinated and you are outside, put aside your mask, you don’t have to wear it.”
Late last month, the CDC updated its guidelines to also say Americans who have been fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks outdoors.
COVID-19 deaths in the United States have tumbled to an average of about 600 per day — the lowest level in 10 months — with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and, on some days, hitting zero.
Confirmed infections have fallen to about 38,000 per day on average, their lowest mark since mid-September. While that is still cause for concern, reported cases have plummeted 85% from a daily peak of more than a quarter-million in early January.
About 45% of the nation’s adults are fully vaccinated, and nearly 59% have received at least one dose, according to the CDC. This week, Pfizer’s vaccine won authorization for use in 12- to 15-year-olds, a move that could make it easier to reopen the nation’s schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.