Health

Once Fully Vaccinated, No Need to Mask Up in Most Places, CDC Says

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear masks or physically distance, regardless of location or size of the gathering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a press briefing Thursday. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.

“This is an exciting and powerful moment,” she added. “It could only happen because of the work from so many who made sure we had the rapid administration of three safe and effective vaccines.”

Walensky cited three large studies on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the original virus and its variants that helped inform the new guidance. One study from Israel found the vaccine to be 97% effective against symptomatic infection.

Those who are symptomatic should still wear masks, Walensky said, and those who are immunocompromised should talk to their doctors for further guidance. The CDC still advises travelers to wear masks while on airplanes, buses, or trains. The guidance still calls for wearing masks in some indoor settings including hospitals, homeless shelters, and prisons. 

“The science demonstrates that if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re protected,” Walensky said, even in the presence of unmasked, unvaccinated people. “We are going to be looking at our guidance and updating it including the travel guidance shortly.”

Death Rates Down

The COVID-19 death rates are now the lowest they have been since April 2020 and cases continue to drop as vaccination rates increase. The United States is now averaging 36,800 cases per day, Walensky said.

President Joe Biden has said he aims to get enough Americans vaccinated by July 4 to celebrate the holiday without the looming threat of COVID-19. The administration has a stated goal of getting 70% of US adults at least partially vaccinated and having 160 million adults fully vaccinated by Independence Day.

In addition to the new guidelines, Walensky announced $7.4 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan to hire and train public health workers across the country. More than half of that, $4.4 billion, will go toward states and localities, and $3 billion will support preparations for future pandemics.

It will also expand the number of CDC epidemic intelligence service officers, who work to investigate and help control outbreaks.

“Though many threats have increased in complexity and scale in recent years, our nation’s public health workforce has gotten smaller,” Walensky said. “This support will immediately add more staff in health.”

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