Fully Vaccinated Individuals Can Shed Masks in Most Indoor, Outdoor Settings

The CDC announces updates to its mask wearing requirements for fully vaccinated individuals.

The CDC Thursday announced fully vaccinated individuals will now be allowed to safely shed masks indoors at most places. However, mask-wearing is still required for crowded indoor settings like health care facilities and on forms of public transportation. In outdoor crowds, fully vaccinated individuals will also no longer be required to wear masks.

Travel, business and school guidance will be updated shortly.

Fully vaccinated individuals are those who are 2 weeks past their single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or 2 weeks past their second Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

The updated guidelines come as lawmakers and the public have pressured the CDC and Biden administration to loosen restrictions on those fully vaccinated in an effort to motivate more Americans to get immunized.

In the United States, deaths from COVID-19 have fallen to around 600 per day, marking the lowest level in 10 months, while in over half of states, the number of lives lost is dropping to single digits and hitting zero on some days. Confirmed infections have also fallen to around 36,000 per day on average, the lowest rate reported since mid-September.

Overall, cases in the country have dropped by one-third in the past 2 weeks. Seven-day average hospital admissions have also dropped.

Currently, almost 45% of the country’s adults are fully vaccinated while over 58% have received at least 1 dose. All individuals over the age of 16 in the United States are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, while the Pfizer vaccine is available to all Americans age 12 and over.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH. The announcements are backed by studies highlighting the efficacy of the vaccines in Israel and the United States. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

In addition, “we are accumulating data that our authorized vaccines are effective against the variants that are circulating in this country,” Walensky said. For those who become infected after a vaccine in rare cases, data show infections are less severe. “The resulting infection is more likely to have a lower viral load, [be] shorter in duration, and likely less risky of transmission to others,” Walensky said.

The CDC last updated its mask guidance on April 27, when it said vaccinated Americans could go outside without masks when walking, jogging, or biking or dining with friends at outdoor restaurants.

Immuno-compromised individuals should consult with their doctors before adopting this new guidance.

“If things get worse, there is always a chance we may need to make a change to these recommendations, 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. If you develop symptoms, you should put your mask back on and get tested right away,” Walensky added.

Vaccinated individuals should still make decisions based on their own comfort level, officials said. If a vaccinated person is unaware if those around them are vaccinated, "the science demonstrates that if you are fully vaccinated you are protected. It is the people who are not fully vaccinated in those settings who might not be wearing a mask, who are not protected," Walensky said.

The CDC continues to encourage unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated, to wear a mask and to physically distance. For businesses and local jurisdictions grappling with mask questions, regional vaccination data available should be used to guide decisions, Walensky said.

During a press conference, officials also announced the release of $7.4 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to support public health workers across the country.