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‘Great day for America’: Vaccinated can largely ditch masks

Published:Friday | May 14, 2021 | 12:13 AM
Vice-President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden smile and walk off after speaking about updated guidance on mask mandates, in the Rose Garden of the White House, yesterday.
Vice-President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden smile and walk off after speaking about updated guidance on mask mandates, in the Rose Garden of the White House, yesterday.

WASHINGTON (AP):

In a major step towards returning to pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

“Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance, an event where he and his staff went without masks. Hours earlier in the Oval Office, where Biden was meeting with vaccinated Republican lawmakers, he led the group in removing their masks when the guidance was announced.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, summarising the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated – or wear a mask until you do.”

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues – even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

“We have all longed for this moment – when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

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The CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people – those who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose – in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot. The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: US virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April, and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

Walensky said the long-awaited change is thanks to the millions of people who have got vaccinated and is based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small – without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

The new guidance is likely to open the door to confusion since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.

“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Walensky and Biden said people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.