CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced the guidelines at a press briefing Tuesday, saying the agency had made the changes after studying how likely vaccinated people are to transmit the virus.
“If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households, the science shows if you’re vaccinated, you can do so safely unmasked,” she said.
Walensky said all Americans should continue to mask up in public, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces, large crowds and when visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at risk of developing severe Covid-19.
“Generally for vaccinated people, outdoor activities without a mask are safe,” she said. “However, we continue to recommend masking in crowded outdoor settings and venues such as packed stadiums and concerts where there is decreased ability to maintain physical distance and where many unvaccinated people may also be present. We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved.”
The CDC recommendations also say that the roughly 95 million Americans who are vaccinated and are exposed to someone with Covid-19 no longer need to stay from others or get tested unless they develop symptoms. However, fully vaccinated residents of non-health care congregate settings, like prisons or college dorms, should still get tested if exposed to Covid-19, even if they do not have symptoms.
The CDC mask guidelines are the latest in a series of steps by the Biden administration to help the country return back to a sense of normalcy by the July Fourth holiday.
“The message is clear: ‘You’re vaccinated, guess what? You get to return to a more normal lifestyle. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re still in danger as well. So get vaccinated,’” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an appearance on CBS’ “This Morning,” hours before the guidelines were released.
Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said Tuesday the CDC will likely more quickly issue updates to public health guidelines moving forward now that more Americans are vaccinated.
“Today, any adult in America who wants a vaccine can get one,” Jha said. “I think that changes the degrees of freedom CDC has, because it also knows that it can’t just put out guidelines without thinking about how those guidelines will be used. So I appreciate people’s criticism — the CDC has felt a little slow at times. I think they are trying to balance both scientific communication as well as the way it will shape policy.”
The Biden administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to more fully open up the country by that date. Officials have moved to ramp up vaccine supply and administration across the country. And the CDC has issued a series of interim guidelines for vaccinated individuals, advising Americans who have received the shot and are fully immune that they can travel as long as they continue to wear masks in public. The agency has also said that vaccinated individuals can gather without masks in small groups with other fully vaccinated individuals.
Despite the new guidelines, Walensky stressed that Americans need to remain alert and wear masks in public to help reduce transmission of Covid-19.