New recommendations released Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 “can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The announcement comes as daily coronavirus cases have been on a steady decline since COVID-19 vaccines rolled out in the U.S., with deaths at their lowest point since last year.
Indoor activities considered safest for vaccinated people to remain maskless include visiting hair salons, going to an uncrowded mall or museum, eating in restaurants and participating in high intensity exercise classes, the CDC notes on its website.
Fully vaccinated people can also ditch their masks when outdoors, even when surrounded by many people, CDC officials said during a White House COVID-19 briefing on Thursday. The update is a slight change from one issued in late April that said fully vaccinated people must still wear masks outdoors while in crowded settings and venues, such as live performances, parades and sports events.
Masks are still required while traveling in planes, buses and trains, regardless of vaccination status, and for those in health care settings, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
People are fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final dose.
Scientific evidence shows the vaccines help prevent both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, as well as deaths and hospitalizations. More recent research shows the vaccines are also effective against circulating coronavirus variants that are more contagious than the original strain that emerged from Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
“You can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said. “This is an exciting moment.”
People who are immunocompromised and fully vaccinated should speak with their doctor before saying goodbye to their masks, however, Walensky added. Unvaccinated people should continue precautions such as wearing masks, washing their hands often and physical distancing.
CDC officials said people who wish to keep wearing masks can continue to do so. “They shouldn’t be criticized” for it, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said during the briefing.
The move comes as politicians, the majority of them Republican, pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to have its guidance offer more leniency for those with the full protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines.
“I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it,” Utah GOP Gov. Spencer Cox told Biden during a virtual meeting Tuesday on coronavirus vaccinations with a bipartisan group of governors, the Boston Globe reported. “And that’s a big motivation; get the unvaccinated to want to get vaccinated.”
“Good point,” Biden responded. “We’re going to be moving on that in the next little bit.”
More than 117.6 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of May 12, about 35% of the population, according to a CDC tracker. Now that children between 12 and 15 years old are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, that number is expected to grow in the coming days and weeks.