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What are the CDC’s Updated Mask Guidelines for Fully Vaccinated People?

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Last week the CDC updated its mask guidelines. But as we know from previous guidance, many states have relaxed their own guidelines in comparison to the ones given by the CDC.

This time is no different. States are not obligated to follow the CDC and can have separate milder or stricter directives based on their own COVID 19 numbers.

The main change in the guidelines issued in the first week of May was that fully vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear masks or maintain 6 feet of distance in indoor spaces.

Many were surprised by this announcement, but it does come as there is a consistent downward trend in COVID 19 new cases counts as well as deaths since January.  

Top health officials from the CDC emphasized that this decision is supported by a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence. We know from animal studies, clinical trials, and, increasingly, from real-world data that the vaccines provide exceptional protection against symptomatic COVID-19. Vaccinated people are not likely to get sick if they are exposed, so the data does strongly support that it is safe for fully vaccinated people to remove their masks.

From this article in Slate, the author states, “In theory, the guidance is supposed to incentivize vaccination, and the opportunity to resume a mask-free life will certainly be a strong inducement for some. But the CDC’s guidance seems to assume that anyone over the age of 12 who wants to be vaccinated can do so immediately. But major disparities in vaccine access remain, leaving millions behind.” 

Finally, the new mask guidance assumes unvaccinated individuals would continue to wear masks and relies on an honor system. The U. S. has not implemented a requirement to show proof of vaccination so it is very hard to know in a group of strangers who is vaccinated and who is not.  Some people have taken to tracking their local county numbers and if vaccine rates are close to 70% which is close to herd immunity, there is more reassurance that public places are safer than before vaccines.

For now, those under 12, wearing a mask is the safest way to protect yourself, and additionally if you are in a large gathering where you are not sure of someone’s vaccine status, wear a mask. For more on this topic click here.

Prerana Sangani, MD, May 25, 2021