The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is relaxing nearly all its recommendations for mask-wearing during the pandemic, so long as you’ve got your shots. On Thursday, the agency announced that fully vaccinated people can safely remove their masks indoors in most settings, though it still says they have to keep them on in potentially crowded public spaces, like on mass transit or in hospitals. It’s also no longer telling vaccinated people to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings.
The CDC’s guidelines for fully vaccinated people (meaning it’s been at least two weeks since your last scheduled shot) have been steadily getting more lenient over time. In March, it advised vaccinated folks that they could safely socialize with other vaccinated people and with members of a single household, unvaxxed or not. By April, it released guidelines saying that vaccinated people could unmask outdoors in most scenarios and that unvaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks while exercising. And, as first reported by the Associated Press, the CDC has now announced this afternoon that pretty much all the recommended mask restrictions will be eased for those vaccinated.
“The science is clear: If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” the C.D.C. said in a statement on Thursday.
The new guidelines do hold some caveats. Vaccinated people are still required to wear masks and otherwise practice distancing when traveling on public transportation or in airports; they may also need to mask up when visiting potentially high-risk places like hospitals and doctors’ offices. And these guidelines won’t necessarily supersede stricter local restrictions or mask mandates.
Overall, though, the changes are supported by plenty of accumulated evidence about the risks of transmission and the benefits of vaccination. Even before the vaccines were available, there had been almost no confirmed cases of covid-19 tied strictly to contact with people outdoors, and some experts have argued that as little as 0.01% of cases involve the outdoors. Meanwhile, research continues to show that the vaccines now widely available and used in the U.S. are highly effective at not only preventing illness from covid-19 but also at reducing the risk of infection and transmission from vaccinated people to others.
They also come at a time when the pandemic does appear to be truly waning, in large part due to the country’s successful vaccination program. Cases have fallen for the fourth straight week and are now at the lowest they’ve been since before the 2020 summer surge.