Fully vaccinated Americans can safely take their masks off both indoors and outdoors without having to worry about COVID-19, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance released Thursday.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large and small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters.
Walensky pointed to three recent studies that demonstrate the already authorized COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease and fighting off infections from virus variants. Data also suggests that if a fully vaccinated person gets infected, they are much less likely to transmit that virus to others.
Walensky has previously said most virus transmission happens indoors, with less than 10 percent of virus transmission traced to outdoor exposures. But now high vaccination rates and these new studies indicate Americans can safely proceed without face masks under more conditions.
Americans still should wear a face mask on an airplane, or when traveling on any other form of public transportation, according to the guidance. The agency updated a chart showing the safety of various activities for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The CDC says it could walk back the guidance if case numbers spike. If people exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19, they should still wear masks. Those who are not fully vaccinated are not protected and should continue wearing masks and physically distancing. Full vaccination comes two weeks after getting either the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Some Republican senators on Capitol Hill are already following the new guidance. Regular mask-wearers Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., all walked to afternoon votes sans masks.
Collins, who questioned Walensky about mask use in a hearing this week, called the change a step in the right direction.
"In order for Americans to have confidence in the CDC guidance, it has to be up to date and not dictated by politics," Collins said in a statement.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said if people still wish to wear a mask in indoor settings there is nothing wrong with that, and everyone should do what makes them feel most comfortable.
“Habits are hard to break,” Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said. “As a rule, we are anti-side-eyeing.”
The administration has slowly relaxed COVID-19 restrictions as more and more people get vaccinated. On April 27, President Joe Biden announced people do not need to wear masks outdoors except in crowded, large-group settings. The CDC said vaccinated people and unvaccinated people also could gather indoors in small private settings with, for example, vaccinated grandparents visiting unvaccinated family members.
Currently, COVID-19 deaths are at the lowest point since April 2020, Slavitt told reporters on Thursday. The most recent seven-day mortality average is 587 deaths per day.