But masking still recommended in dense crowds

The CDC released new guidance stating that those fully vaccinated against Covid-19 should not be required to wear a mask in most outdoor settings—but don’t go throwing out your mask if you’re planning to go to concerts, the agency added.

For now, those who are two weeks out or more from their last dose of one of the currently approved Covid-19 vaccines—two doses of Pfizer/Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson—”can participate in many outdoor activities without a mask at low risk to themselves or to others,” the CDC wrote. In other words, when attending small outdoor gatherings or doing solo activities such as walking, running, or hiking, fully vaccinated individuals can unmask without worry. However, “CDC continues to recommend requiring masking in crowded settings and venues where there is a decreased ability to maintain physical distance until widespread vaccination coverage is achieved.”

And, the CDC added, vaccinated individuals should still wear masks in indoor public settings, or when visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households or who are at increased risk for severe Covid-19—and steer clear of large, indoor, in-person gatherings.

“I want to be absolutely clear—if you’re in a crowd, like in a stadium or at a conference or a concert, you still need to wear a mask, even if you’re outside” President Joe Biden said in a press statement on the White House Lawn regarding the new guidance. “But beginning today, gathering with a group of friends in a park, going for a picnic, as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without a mask. The CDC is able to make this announcement because our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low if you’re both fully vaccinated and out in the open air.”

In its guidance, the CDC also explained that fully vaccinated people can skip testing before leaving the U.S. for international travel and refrain from self-quarantining upon return; forego testing and quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic; and refrain from routine screening testing if asymptomatic and feasible. Vaccinated people should still get tested if they are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms and follow guidance issued by their individual employer while in the workplace.

Masking has been a subject of controversy since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. More recently, nationwide mask mandates have devolved into a patchwork of varying stances as some states have dropped restrictions while others kept them in place. But now, as vaccination rates continue to rise across the U.S., public health officials are beginning to breathe a little easier.

In a press briefing from the White House Covid-19 Task Force, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, referenced a comment she made weeks ago, in which she said she felt a sense of “impending doom” following a substantial spike in Covid-19 cases in the U.S. “As I look at the curve now, it’s stabilizing, it’s coming down,” she said. “The vaccinations have continued to grow in an extraordinary way. I think we really do need to get more and more people vaccinated… but as I see more vaccines getting into people’s arms, more and more people being willing to do so, confidence increasing…when those vaccinations continue to soar and the cases plummet, then we should be in good shape.”

Asked how many people would need to be vaccinated before people could start removing their masks in more crowded spaces, Walensky said that the answer will hinge upon “the interplay of the number of people vaccinated and the number of cases that we’re seeing.

“One of the things we need to look at is the lack of uniformity of vaccination rates across this country—not every state, not every county is vaccinated at the same rate,” she said. “And where we have low areas of vaccination, we are going to potentially see more outbreaks, which is why I think we have to be careful and we have to make sure that people get vaccinated in all corners and in all counties.”

John McKenna, Associate Editor, BreakingMED™

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