The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced changes for its mask guidance on Thursday afternoon, saying people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can cease physical distancing and mask wearing in most situations.
Under the new guidance, the CDC says Americans who have been fully vaccinated — those who received their final dose more than 14 days prior — don’t need to wear masks for most indoor or outdoor activities. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the guidance update reflects new data and scientific literature.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Dr. Walensky told reporters in a virtual press conference on Thursday afternoon. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that we have stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
The CDC’s recommendations only apply to people who have been fully vaccinated, and don’t apply when inside of homeless shelters, corrections centers, health care facilities or in places where masks are required by law. Walensky also said immunocompromised people should consult with their physician on what they should do first.
She also warned “there is always a chance we may need to make a change to these recommendations” if things were to get worse. “But we know that the more people are vaccinated, the less cases we will have, and the less chance of a new spike or additional variants emerging,” she said.
The CDC director cited several recent scientific studies, including one from Israel that showed vaccinated healthcare workers experienced “97% effectiveness against symptomatic” COVID-19 cases and 86% effectiveness against asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
“In the United States, vaccines were 90% effective against any infection in nearly 4,000 health care workers, and 94% effective against hospitalizations from COVID-19 in an evaluation across 24 hospitals in 14 states,” said Walensky of two other recent studies.
Data shows that when vaccinated people are infected with COVID-19, said Walensky. She also said that they have shorter infection times and have a smaller risk of infecting other people.
According to the CDC, nearly 60% of adults in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. Furthermore, more than 117 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, a figure representing 37% of the population.
During remarks at the White House later Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden highlighted the CDC’s new guidance, saying, “they have concluded that fully vaccinated people are at very, very low risk of getting COVID-19. Therefore, if you have been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.”
Over the last few days the CDC has been facing public scrutiny over its masking guidance, particularly with its masking guidance for outdoor activities.
As The New York Times reported, Walensky’s claim on April 27 that less than 10% of transmission occurs outdoors was misleading because the real number, according to data, may actually be between .1% to 1%.
In response to The New York Times report, Dr. Walensky said that the less-than-ten-percent figure for outdoor cases was pulled from a top-line meta-analysis published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. “All studies that were included in the systematic review said less than 10% of cases were transmitted outdoors,” said Dr. Walensky.
Related: CDC Misleading Public With Outdoor Virus Transmission Figure: Report