By Pat Carragher - May 14, 2021
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidelines Thursday, announcing that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances.
"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy."
The announcement did come with some exceptions. The CDC warned that people who are immune compromised should speak with their doctors before giving up their masks. It is also still required to wear masks when traveling on buses, trains, planes and public transportation.
More than 35 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In addition to travel, fully vaccinated people may still be asked to wear masks in certain places, such as in hospitals or other health care settings.
“The hospitals are the place where people need to feel safe,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center's Infectious Diseases Department. “While COVID rates are dropping, they’re not low enough for hospitals to get rid of masks. We’ve got some of the most immune-suppressed patient population in the bone marrow unit here at Moffitt. They’re not going to disappear any time soon.”
"While COVID rates are dropping, they’re not low enough for hospitals to get rid of masks. We’ve got some of the most immune-suppressed patient population in the bone marrow unit here at Moffitt. They’re not going to disappear any time soon."- Dr. John Greene
It is recommended that anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms, even if they are vaccinated, put their mask back on and get tested. Unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks as they remain at risk of severe illness, death or spreading the disease to others.
The new mask guidelines come less than a week after the FDA approved expanding use of the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 12 to 15. Between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated against COVID to achieve herd immunity. With some adults choosing against vaccination, the approval of vaccines in children is seen as crucial to ending the pandemic.
Pfizer announced in March that its vaccine was 100% effective in a study of children ages 12 to 15. The study results paved the way for shots to be administered to middle school students before school starts this fall.
“Pfizer’s data came in and it mirrors the adult data,” said Greene. “There’s been no drastically dangerous side effects. I think you’re going to see it’ll go well, and they’ll eventually target the next youngest age group, maybe 5 to 12 years old. There’s no reason why kids wouldn’t respond.”