New CDC guidelines say fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outside, except in crowded settings

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CDC guidelines say vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outside

The CDC released new guidelines that say people who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks outside in most cases.

Staff Video, USA TODAY

Fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear a mask outside, except in crowded settings, under new guidelines released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a White House briefing, public health officials said fully vaccinated individuals can unmask while walking, running, hiking, or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household.

Vaccinated people also don’t need to wear a mask during small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends, or at gatherings with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, they said.

In addition, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households, the guidance said.

“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “If you are fully vaccinated, things are much safer for you than those who are not yet fully vaccinated.”

The CDC still recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings and at outdoor public settings or venues where masks are required.

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The CDC’s announcement represents a slight shift in public health messaging, from drilling pandemic restrictions to encouraging vaccinations by providing tangible benefits to those who have gotten their shots.

“The bottom line is clear, if you’re vaccinated you can do more things more safely both outdoors as well as indoors,” President Joe Biden said in a later White House briefing Tuesday. “For those who haven’t gotten their vaccination yet, especially if you’re younger or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go and get vaccinated now.”

As of Tuesday, CDC data showed nearly 30% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated and more than 42% have received at least one dose.

The agency’s guidance previously said “masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others or with people who live in your household,” but it continued to recommend masks in public settings, and noted local outdoor mask orders should be followed.

Some states already had begun to relax outdoor mask requirements. Kentucky residents are no longer required to wear masks at outdoor events with fewer than 1,000 people. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters last week he wanted to lift some restrictions in the state by the end of April.

Health experts have said throughout the pandemic the risk of transmitting the coronavirus outdoors is much lower than indoors. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, told George Stephanopoulos Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week” the risk for vaccinated people outdoors “is minuscule.”

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A November report published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found the odds of indoor transmission was 18.7 times higher than outdoors. Researchers looking at five studies discovered less than 10% of COVID-19 infections occurred outdoors.

“The virus rapidly disperses in air outdoors due to wind currents, so the risk of inhaling aerosols of viral particles from people walking by or running is quite low,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

However, he said masks should still be worn during large outdoor gatherings where people are in close proximity for prolonged amounts of time such as sporting events, protests, or rallies.

In the newly released masking guidelines, the CDC recommends people continue to wear masks at crowded outdoor events such as a live performance, parade, or sporting event. They also recommend mask-wearing at a barbershop or hair salon, an uncrowded indoor shopping mall or museum, a small indoor gathering with unvaccinated individuals, an indoor movie theater and in a house of worship.

Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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