CDC: Fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and inside in most situations.

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.

“We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.

The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot. The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: US 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.

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.

“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.”

The easing guidance is likely to open the door to confusion, since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not. Walensky said those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.

President Joe Biden was set to highlight the new guidance Thursday afternoon in a speech from the White House.

To date 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.

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