Fully vaccinated Americans can do away with wearing masks, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday in the most significant shift in federal guidelines since the start of the pandemic.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor or outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC chief Rochelle Walensky said at a White House news briefing. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Walensky didn’t immediately specify any exceptions, but signaled masks are still required in some circumstances, like cross-border travel.
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About 59% of American adults have received at least one shot, and the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE was cleared for use in children ages 12 to 15 years old this week. New daily COVID-19 cases, meanwhile, have been declining for weeks. Still, the pace of vaccinations has slowed, raising concerns about whether hesitancy will impede widespread protection in the population.
President Joe Biden has set a goal of 70% of adult Americans receiving at least one vaccine shot by July 4.
The most recent CDC mask guidance came in late April, when federal health officials said fully vaccinated Americans could drop their masks when exercising, dining and socializing outdoors in small groups, as well as when gathering indoors with other fully vaccinated people.
The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose -- either two weeks after the second dose of vaccines from Moderna Inc. or Pfizer, or two weeks after receiving the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Some Republican senators pressed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on the agency’s guidance for fully vaccinated people at a hearing Tuesday, with Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, expressing concern about the pace at which CDC was releasing recommendations.
“The American people have just lost patience with us, with you guys,” Cassidy said. “I just ask you to kind of be aware of their frustration and get a little real time into updating these things.”
Biden has steadily delivered a more optimistic tone on the pandemic, while warning regularly that the U.S. isn’t yet out of the woods. He has launched what he calls a “new phase” of the vaccination program, which emphasizes rural clinics, pharmacies and mobile sites instead of mass vaccination clinics, as demand begins to dry up.
He is scheduled to deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program later this afternoon.
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